The Atlanta Hawks, fresh off of a 24-58 record, owned the third overall pick. The Dallas Mavericks, slotted two picks later, finished with the exact same record. Atlanta would go on to select Doncic, the young Slovenian many saw as the draft’s top prospect. But his Hawks tenure wouldn’t last long, as the guard was flipped to Dallas in exchange for Oklahoma guard Trae Young and a 2019 protected first-round pick.
Approximately three-and-a-half years later, both Doncic and Young are in the midst of their fourth professional season. And while each has impressed enough to be considered a star, it’s worth asking which team got the better end of the unforgettable transaction.
Luka Doncic has been historically good for the Dallas Mavericks
For years, Dirk Nowitzki served as the face of the Mavericks. But the 22-year-old Doncic has seamlessly transitioned into the role previously occupied by the future Hall of Famer.
From the first time he first took the court in 2018, Doncic has been one of the league’s best players. In his Rookie of the Year campaign, the former EuroLeague MVP averaged 21.2 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 6.0 assists. Those numbers drastically improved across the board in 2019-20, when the first-time All-Star finished the year with 28.8 points, 9.4 rebounds, and 8.8 assists.
A model stat sheet filler, Luka has already earned 38 triple-doubles in less than four full seasons, ranking 11th on the all-time list. His first triple-double came at 19 years and 327 days old, the third-youngest player to record one in league history. The young star has also been a model for consistency, breaking Michael Jordan’s post-NBA-ABA merger record of 18 straight games with 20+ points, 5+ rebounds, and 5+ assists.
At just 22, Luka already has a pair of All-Star selections and first-team All-NBA recognitions under his belt. He’s one of six players since the merger to have two first-team All-NBA selections in his first three seasons and the first since Tim Duncan. And given the rate he’s moving at, he can expect many more All-NBA selections in his future.
While Doncic’s individual numbers are impressive, postseason success has eluded the Mavs. Dallas has suffered first-round exits in both of Luka’s trips to the postseason. Additionally, the star guard has been embroiled in controversy in regards to his working relationship with former head coach Rick Carlisle and certain members of the Mavericks’ front office.
Trae Young has brought the Atlanta Hawks back to relevancy
As Doncic dominated across the pond in Europe, Young was arguably the most exciting player in college basketball. The exhilaration only continued when the 6-foot-1 guard left Norman for the ATL.
Although it wasn’t good enough to win Rookie of the Year, Young still earned unanimous All-Rookie honors after averaging 19.1 points and 8.1 assists. His scoring saw a massive climb in year two, averaging a career-best 29.6 points to go with 9.3 assists in his first and only All-Star season. As an elite scorer with great playmaking abilities, Young is one of six players in history with two or more 40-point, 15-assist games.
With a single All-Star appearance and no All-NBA selections, Young’s accolades fall short of Doncic’s resume. But Trae’s biggest argument is based on what Atlanta was able to achieve last season. As the five-seed in the Eastern Conference, the Hawks upset the New York Knicks in round one before stunning the top-seed Philadelphia 76ers in the second round. At the center of the miracle run was none other than Young.
First, Young had multiple 30-point efforts including a game-winning floater in Atlanta’s five-game thrashing of New York. Against the Sixers, Ice Trae had five double-doubles throughout the seven-game series, as well as a 39-point effort to complete a 26-point comeback victory in a pivotal Game 5. Then against the Milwaukee Bucks, the eventual NBA champions, Young’s 48-point, 11-assist night helped the Hawks steal Game 1. However, Atlanta fell to the Bucks in six, thanks in large part to a bone bruise in Young’s foot that cost the star Games 4 and 5.
Who won the Luka Doncic-Trae Young deal?
In order to properly evaluate the full trade, one must factor in every player involved. For Atlanta, that means including Cam Reddish, the Duke standout taken with the 2019 first-round pick acquired from Dallas. In three seasons, including last year’s injury-shortened sophomore campaign, Reddish has averaged 10.8 points in his career. But the 22-year-old has found a niche as the Hawks’ sixth man, shooting a career-best 40.6% from the field and 37.7% from three in his first 25 games.
So who is the winner of a trade featuring the only two All-Stars from the 2018 Draft? Is it the Mavericks, who landed a generational talent in Doncic but have no postseason wins to show for it? Or is it the Hawks, who with Young and Reddish can boast a recent trip to the Eastern Conference Finals? Maybe the answer can simply be both.
Even with no playoff victories, Dallas would never regret striking the deal for Doncic. Not when the 6-foot-7 guard has spent the majority of his career linked to LeBron James. Nor would Atlanta ever reconsider “settling” for Young, whose quickness, handles, and range has earned comparisons to Stephen Curry.
If forced to pick a winner, talent and accolades give the slight edge to Luka and the Mavericks. But that changes instantly should Trae and the Hawks make another deep postseason run that perhaps ends with some hardware.
In the meantime, we can dream about the two superstars going head-to-head in an NBA Finals matchup. That would certainly help declare a definitive winner.
All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.