This piece is about Trae Young. But let’s start this off with every Atlanta Hawks fan’s favorite topic – Luka Doncic.
Imagine if we lived in a world where Luka Doncic never existed. No Luka Magic. No heir apparent to Dirk Nowitzki in Dallas. No Slovenian pretty boy charming referees. In this reality, the Atlanta Hawks no longer trade with the Mavericks in the 2018 NBA draft, and just take Trae Young straight up with the third overall pick. Meanwhile, Dallas ends up with Mo Bamba, or maybe Kevin Knox. Sorry, Mavs fans.
Trae Young then features in a solid rookie campaign, where he’s unanimously voted Rookie of the Year. With no Luka Doncic to steal the spotlight, the Hawks star is deemed by pundits as the most exciting prospect to watch out for from his draft class. Trae Young comes on strong for his sophomore season, finishing his second year sans Luka with a pretty absurd stat line, averaging nearly 30 points and 10 assists every single night while shooting 44% from the field, and 86% from the free-throw line. This Doncic-less paradise would’ve been bliss for him, no?
But wait, that last part wasn’t theoretical anymore. Trae Young actually was decimals away from 30 and 10 a night as a 21 year old in his second year. But why were we not talking about that more, again? Right, because Luka Doncic actually exists.
Trae Young deserves your attention
Trae Young absolutely terrorized the New York Knicks through five games, painting himself as the ideal villain in a narrative that was supposed to be about a rejuvenated Knicks franchise. With this success, the perspective on Young has drastically shifted from last year’s version, a good stats-bad team guy, to this flamethrower of a point guard that’s making big-time plays on a heightened stage. The playoffs have always been the fiery crucible where new stars are made and dimming ones are put out.
But if you look at his stat line in the postseason – 29.2 points on 44% shooting from the field to go along with 9.8 assists – it was basically identical to what he averaged last season already. The biggest difference hasn’t been that he’s flipped a newfound switch or figured out some magical way to win. It’s just that he finally has high-level contributors surrounding him instead of being the end-all, be-all of possessions back then. He was already this good, but nobody bothered to look.
Sophomore Trae Young averaging 29.6 points per game wasn’t just impressive, it was historic. There have only been 4 players in the history of the NBA to average 29 points per game for an entire year by their age 21 season. LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Mr. Ice Trae himself ranks third, followed by a man basically double his size in a young Shaquille O’Neal. Below them,
Those other three with him on the list are physical unicorns who look like they were built by some kid playing around with Create-A-Player on NBA 2k. Trae Young meanwhile reminds you more of the kid with the controller. For what it’s worth, Luka Doncic was the next man on the list at 28.8, followed by Michael Jordan one slot below him at 28.2.
Stephen Curry gets the love, Young gets the hate?
While the Hawks star doesn’t exactly look the part, Trae Young has started off his NBA career on the same trajectory as some of the most offensively gifted players we’ve ever seen. The amazing part is he’s doing it as a diminutive guard barely cracking six feet and well under 200 pounds.
That aspect is also what’s perplexing amid Trae’s lack of league-wide love. Part of the charm that made Golden State Warriors icon Stephen Curry the most likable superstar in the NBA is that he doesn’t look too different from your Average Joe. Some of us may never be able to put someone on a poster like LeBron James, or outmuscle giants in the paint like Shaq, but we can practice three-pointers like Curry does.
Yet in reality, Steph Curry is still a 6-foot-4 man with otherworldly balance and flexibility. Not to discredit the skills Trae Young has, but he’s much more “average” than Steph ever could be at a glance. Perhaps it’s the babyfaced good looks or the bigger West Coast market, neither of which Trae Young possesses.
Let’s stack up present-day Trae Young to Curry, and his other common star comparison, Steve Nash. Young is currently in his age-22 season, with his aforementioned production of 29.2 points, 9.8 assists, and 44% shooting.
At his age-22 season, Curry shot better from the field at 48%, but was far less productive at just 18.6 points and 5.8 assists. His first playoff appearance, the shocking postseason 2012-13 run where he and Klay Thompson stunned the NBA with their offensive prowess, Steph actually shot worse than Young at 43.4%, while also having lesser raw numbers at 23.4 points and 8.1 assists per game. He was also two years older than Young is now.
During Steve Nash’s age-22 season, he was just a rookie with the Phoenix Suns who averaged 3.3 points and 2.1 assists. It wasn’t until his age-26 season, five years into the league when Nash started producing and first played a big role on an actual playoff team. Nash’s 2000-01 playoff run with the Dallas Mavericks saw him put up just 13.6 points and 6.4 assists, nearly half the productivity of Young, who’s four years his junior at this point.
Trae Young might still never reach heights as lofty as those two former MVPs. After all, both of them were much more efficient at shooting and are slightly less of a liability on the defensive end. But you can’t deny that he’s outpaced them at this point of his career.
Maybe in a world without the specter Luka Doncic haunting him, Trae Young would be getting more of the limelight. Or maybe he still wouldn’t anyways. But Trae Young is here now, and is demanding everybody’s attention.