By Lenn Robbins
One point guard is emerging as the anti-face of the NBA, a player so cocky, so audacious, so willing to turn an entire arena against him that it’s a wonder no one has printed up “Wanted” posters of Trae Young. Nets fans did it for Deron Williams although that was the home fans trying to locate its wayward star, not a despised visiting player.
The other point guard is being touted as the next face of the NBA, a Slovenian for a league yearning to expand in Europe and Asia.
Trae Young and Luka Doncic will forever be linked by the 2018 NBA Draft night trade between the Hawks and Mavericks that landed Young in Atlanta and Doncic in Dallas. Until, oh say, a month ago the suggestion that maybe, just maybe, the Hawks won the trade would have been basketball blasphemy and maybe it still it.
But let’s take a moment and review what’s happened of late.
The Mavericks were eliminated from the playoffs in the first round by the Los Angeles Clippers after leading that series 2-0. Doncic was statistically spectacular, averaging 35.7 points, 10.3 assists and 7.9 rebounds and he had the burden of trying to carry the 7-foot-3 Unican’t known thankfully as former Knick Kristaps Porzingis.
Young’s Atlanta team, popping with young talent, just went into Milwaukee and took Game 1 of the Eastern Conference from the Bucks. Young dropped 48 on Giannis and Co., including the now infamous “Shimmy Three.” He’s averaged 30.5 points, 10.5 assists and three rebounds in these playoffs in what is becoming one of the greatest NBA postseason runs in history led by the Young Gun.
Since the playoffs began, Young Gun has ticked off, well, everyone outside of Atlanta. He bowed at midcourt in The Garden, implored refs to send Ben Simmons to the foul line in Philadelphia and last night put Jrue Holiday, one of the league’s best defensive guards, on skates, then shimmying before he drained a 3!
Doncic has ticked off a lot of folks in Dallas. He reportedly is not a fan of Haralabos Voulgaris, the team’s Director of Quantitative Research and Development and a confidante of owner Mark Cuban. Doncic also was not thrilled when Dallas ended its 24-year relationship with GM Donnie Nelson.
And if Doncic truly was a Rick Carlisle fan, the former Mavs coach would still be in Dallas as opposed to taking the head coaching job in Indianapolis, as was reported Thursday. Even before all the Dallas drama, Doncic had gained a reputation throughout the league as a prima donna, getting called for 15 technical fouls, mostly for complaining that he wasn’t getting calls, a league epidemic.
“I wasn’t myself this season,” Doncic told TNT. “Complaining way too much. I have to work on that.”
Maybe this is who Doncic is. Maybe he’s just the latest NBA star who demands to be the sun, with every other celestial being orbiting in his favor. One can say the same about LeBron or Michael but they have the hardware to demand that level of ref and organizational pampering.
At first glance it was easy to declare the Hawks the losers in that 2018 deal. Doncic, at 6-foot-7, 230 pounds, is a physical beast of a point guard. Young, at 6-foot-1, 180 pounds (maybe) barely fills out a jayvee uniform.
Doncic’s wheat brown hair is parted neatly on the side. Young’s hair looks as if a swarm of killer hornets tried to make a nest and left with clumps of locks.
Doncic can shoot over opposing point guards, is a master at the Eurostep, and uses his size to draw fouls. He’s attempted 1,518 free throws in his three seasons, making 1,116 (73.5-percent).
Young uses quickness and a remarkable ability to get defenders on his hip when he then starts and stops, drawing fouls. He’s attempted 1,519 free throws, making 1,508 (86.1-percent). He also has developed an uncanny knack for lofting alley-oop passes to center Clint Capela and forward John Collins, both of whom might put up with Young because he allows them to throw down monster dunks.
And then there’s the wildcard in all this. The Hawks used the 2019 first-round pick they acquired from Dallas to move down in the 2018 from No.3 to No.5, to select former Duke star Cam Reddish.
Reddish was solid as a rookie (10.5 points, 3.7 rebounds, 1.5 assists) and was improving this season (11.2, 4.0, 1.3) before an Achilles injury cost him the second half of the season. He’s been upgraded and could see action in Game 2 against the Bucks.
Reddish gives the Hawks a wealth of young talent up front along with De’Andre Hunter and Collins. The Hawks elected to not pick to extend Collins, who would look resplendent in a Knicks jersey. Or the Hawks could orchestrate a trade for an elite shooting guard, which would make Young even more dangerous.
Just as no one would have known that Young would emerge as the most talked about player in the 2021 playoffs while leading his fifth-seeded Hawks to the conference finals while Doncic would be in Slovenia watching Euro 2020.
Were the Hawks the losers in that 2018 deal? Young is perfectly capable of alienating his own teammates and Atlanta could implode. But that question once seemed like a no-brainer. Now this is the question:
Which franchise seems better suited to long term success? Young and the Hawks or Doncic and the Mavs?