Young and Doncic: Parallel careers on fast tracks

Not every draft decision is a zero-sum. Not every choice comes down to Peyton Manning, all-time great, or Ryan Leaf, all-time dud. That the Hawks didn't draft Luka Doncic – or, to be precise, drafted him but shipped him to Dallas for Trae Young and a protected Round 1 pick in 2019 – needn't be another example of taking Marvin Williams, never an All-Star, over Chris Paul, nine times an All-Star.

The early guess is that both Young and Doncic will turn out as advertised, which is another way of saying: Neither the Hawks nor the Mavericks will rue their transaction. The Trail Blazers get hammered to this day for taking the brittle Sam Bowie No. 2 overall in 1984, leaving Michael Jordan to fall to the Bulls at No. 3; less mentioned is that the Rockets held the No. 1 pick in that draft, and Hakeem Olajuwon became a Hall of Famer himself after leading Houston to consecutive NBA titles, albeit in the Jordan interregnum.

I’m trusting you, dear reader, not to beat me over the head with the paragraph above. I’m not projecting Young/Doncic as a Hall of Famer. A three-game sample size is a tad smallish, even for kneejerk me. But Doncic has, it must be said, been rather good, and Young has been terrific. If the clubs had a chance to redo the night of June 21, I’m pretty sure neither would change a thing.

This isn’t to say that the two rookies won’t be linked, just as we around here could never mention M. Williams without invoking C. Paul – even though the player drafted immediately after poor Marvin wasn’t CP3 but Deron Williams, five-time All-Star. A check of the Hawks’ website at 7:30 a.m. Wednesday showed huge photos of Young and Doncic, with a “buy tickets” box. (There seemed plenty available, despite it being opening night for the refurbished/renamed State Farm Arena.)

Young's 35 points and 11 assists in Cleveland notwithstanding, Hawks buzz is never an Atlanta constant. On the contrary, it arrives every so often and never for long. The barber shop in their redone home can't disguise the greater reality, which is that Young was the first real piece in a rebuild that will be measured out in years, not weeks or months. There's a good chance the Hawks will pick in the top three of next June's draft, which is kind of the idea. Even if Young is indeed their Stephen Curry, history teaches that the Warriors didn't become the Warriors until Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green showed up.

Curry’s rookie averages: 17.5 points, 5.9 assists. Barring injury, Young figures to trump those – through three games, he’s averaging 23 points and 8.3 assists – because he’ll have the ball in his hands every blessed trip, and the NBA’s scoring uptick has been the story of its Week 1. Last season, the average NBA point total was 106.3; it’s now 113.4. Teams have been Pacing & Spacing and Going Small for a while, but we’ve arrived at a moment when there are simply too many well-spaced little men to guard. As the proud defender Green has averred, “defense really isn’t an emphasis anymore in this league.”

If you’re looking for a sudden-star-rookie-of-the-year type, it’s apt to be Young. With not much else going for them, the Hawks won’t gripe about him shooting too much. (And he’s not just a shooter. He led Division I in scoring and assists last season.) He mightn’t turn out to be the second coming of Steph – again, it’s a bit soon to make that comparison – but he should be a reason to watch a team that otherwise would defy watching.

As for Doncic: He’s not the shooter Young is, and he’s not a true point guard, either. He’s more a creative wing. He’s averaging 19 points, 5.9 rebounds and 4.5 assists. (He’s also averaging 4.5 turnovers.) The two might never admit it – Young said after Wednesday’s shootaround, “I don’t get caught up in matchups. That’s for y’all to talk about” – but their careers will always track parallel lines. They didn’t just enter the NBA at the same time. They were traded for each other.

Check the records. The Hawks' first pick in the 2018 draft (third overall) will stand forever as Luka Doncic. The Mavericks' first pick (fifth overall) was Trae Young, who said, "It was cool walking across the stage with a Dallas Mavericks hat on – for a minute."

Thinking fast, he also said: "It was cooler by the end of the night," by which time he was literally wearing a different hat. For the moment, Rayford Trae Young is happy to be a Hawk, which is more than we could say for Dennis Schroder, who no longer is.