“You will never get fired for taking Luka Doncic number three, ever. You will get fired for trading down to five and taking Trae Young, if Trae Young isn’t good and Doncic is awesome. You will get fired, it’s just a matter of when. And it may not even matter if you nail some other stuff. That will get you fired and it will mar the rest of your career.” – Zach Lowe
Strong forwards from the Professor himself. And there is valid reason for why Zach Lowe thinks that way. Trae Young will forever be compared to Luka Doncic; their respective perceptions intertwined with another. The phrase, “boom or bust” is best applicable to Trae Young out of any prospect from this draft class. When he first walked into the University of Oklahoma, he was not expected to be a one and done kind of player. Trae was expected to be stay in college for at least two years to develop his game before deciding to go pro. Nobody could have expected him to become the first player in Division I history to lead in points and assists per game. For the first half of his sole rookie season, he was virtually unstoppable. Through his first twelve games, Young averaged 29.6 points, 10.7 assists, and 1.8 steals on 47.5% from the field and 41.3% from behind the arc. College sports was not supposed to be about the individual but the Oklahoma freshmen was defying all standards. The fact that everybody was freaking out was perfectly normal. Nobody, let alone someone as diminutive as Young himself, was expected to take off like this. He rose from last first/early second-round pick to a potential top 3 lottery pick in the span of mere weeks.
But his college tenure has a second side to it. A chapter that has worried many teams in the league. He struggled in the lead up to the NCAA tournament with teams locked onto him. Young simply was not able to hand the scores of double and even triple teams thrown his way. The turnovers piled on as did the number of outlandish shots from 30+ feet. Coached executed a more physical game plan when facing the point guard and he simply could not cope up. His ability to knock down deep threes fell off a cliff. Outstanding shots became outlandish. The praise he had initially received turned to skepticism and doubt that he could succeed as a high lottery pick in the NBA.
Luka Doncic is the trend guy in the league. He’s the darling of every hipster NBA circle. He was easily the safest pick in the draft as there is almost no way in which he would be a bust. Luka’s a little bit of an unknown given that he’s coming from Europe and elected not to play in the 2018 Summer League. While the two lottery picks will forever be linked, let’s not forget how dominate Trae Young was during the college season. He still has miles to go in order to develop his strength, physicality, and decision making. The cynicism and uncertainty is warranted given how the two halves of his college tenure can be described as polar opposites. There was even skepticism when he first entered the Division I scene and people questioned whether the Texas native would even be a capable college player. And he proved everyone wrong. His vision and passing are elite for his age. These are his best skills. His shooting was what brought national and international attention to Young but his ability to read the floor is intrinsic to his game.
Trae Young was compared to the greatest shooter of all time in Stephen Curry for his limitless range. It is the wrong comparison. He modeled his game after Steve Nash; a player he idolized as he grew up. The manner in which he usually approached his came is similar to the Suns’ legend. Only after a few seasons will be start to find out what kind of player Trae Young is going to be the professional level. The only reason he was compared to the Stephen Curry is that he began to nail 35 footers in college. Even Mike Conley is more similar to Young. It took the former Buckeyes Point Guard a few seasons before he found his place in the league. He too was projected to be an elite playmaker in the league and has since developed a reliable jump shot. College players who’ve been lights out from beyond the arc haven’t always been able to translate that to the NBA. Just look at Lonzo Ball. He shot 41.2% from a much closer college three point line. Compare that to shooting with the Lakers, 30.5%. Trae Young is obviously a better shooter than Conley and Ball. If he can focus more on involving his teammates and running an offense for a Hawks team that has zero expectations to win, he has a chance to be a really good player.
Trae Young may very well end up being a fine player though everything about his trajectory and progress will always involve the name Luka Doncic. The Slovenian national has not only shown that he can hang with men, but can thrive and lead them to the promise land. The Euro League and Spanish ACB is full of talent that has NBA experience. And as a teenager, Luka has delivered on the hype. He went from a rotation piece with Real Madrid as at the age of fifteen to being the best player in the continent at nineteen. Not Rookie of the Year, but the Most Valuable Player of the second most competitive basketball league in the world. At that age, there has never been a player more accomplished than Luka Doncic in the history of European Basketball. He is special, it’s just that simple.
The biggest question facing Doncic is his ability to drive past players off the dribble. He has the size and ball-handling to do so but is yet to show a quick first step that can enable him to get past some of the more athletic wing players in basketball. Though every knock about Doncic can be easily applied for Trae Young. And so were are left with the fact that one player is 6’8’’ and the other is barely 6’2’’. We do not have to evaluate one versus the other. They can both be solid NBA players and find success in the league. Nevertheless, that is exactly why Zach Lowe’s statements on his podcast will forever resistant. It is going to be difficult to not rest on our base impulse to compare the two. Especially, is Luka Doncic explodes with the Mavericks and Trae Young struggles to find his place with the Hawks.