Dallas Mavericks point guard Luka Doncic was named Friday night as one of the three finalists to win this year’s NBA Rookie of the Year award. The other two finalists are Atlanta Hawks point guard Trae Young and Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton.
The winner – along with the league’s other top awards – will be announced on June 24 in Santa Monica, Calif, during the NBA Awards Show.
Doncic is the odds-on favorite to win the coveted award after he averaged 21.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and six assists this season. The only other rookie in NBA history to average at least 21 points, seven rebounds and six assists is Oscar Robertson, who averaged 30.5 points, 10.1 rebounds and 9.7 assists in his first season during the 1960-’61 campaign.
During the TNT pre-game show Friday night prior to Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals between Toronto and Milwaukee, the TNT studio analyst crew of Ernie Johnson, Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith and Shaquille O’Neal weighed in on who they believe should take home the prestigious Rookie of the Year prize.
“Once upon a time this looked like an open and shut case for Luka Doncic,” Johnson said. ”How much did Trae Young close the door and how much of a factor in your mind is Deandre Ayton?
“How do you size it up, Shaq?”
O’Neal was adamant in believing that Doncic and Young should wind up as co-Rookies of the Year.
“Well, Luka started off strong and faded off,” O’Neal said. “When he faded off, Trae Young made a name for himself.
“It’ll be hard just to pick one because they both had very exciting seasons – (Doncic) at the beginning and (Young) at the end. Deandre had an OK season, but he was out with a lot of injuries.”
Barkley chimed in and disagreed with O’Neal.
“Doncic had a monster lead, then the Mavericks folded their season,” Barkley said. “They traded all of his help to New York to get (Kristaps) Porzingis, and I think you have to factor that in.
“They were in the playoff run and then they made a conscious effort: ‘We’re going to abandon this season.’ They traded four really good players to New York (and) that’s when Doncic tailed off and didn’t have any help.”
Actually, Doncic collected all eight of his rookie-high eight triple-doubles AFTER the Mavs traded DeAndre Jordan, Dennis Smith Jr. and Wesley Matthews to the New York Knicks on Jan. 31 for Courtney Lee, Tim Hardaway Jr., Trey Burke and Porzingis.
And what the TNT analysts may have forgotten is that Doncic was the Western Conference Rookie of the Year for all six months of the season. The only player in NBA history – in either conference — to accomplish that feat was Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns during the 2015-’16 season.
Young, who averaged 19.1 points, 3.7 rebounds and 8.1 assists, captured the Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month four times.
“To me, as good as Luka had been for the first 35 games, I think Trae Young was just as good for the second 40 games,” Smith sad. “Yes, (the Mavs) did start to trade away his help. But I think also, I don’t know if the Atlanta Hawks knew Trae was going to be that good.
“And then all of a sudden they said, ‘We’re going to let him play more and we’re going to do more, because he didn’t have the help.’ So I agree with Shaq in this regard: It is a tossup award, both of those guys deserve it, there’s no guy that to me is a clear-cut favorite. You played well the first 40, I played well the next 40. It’s even.”
Ironically, the NBA Rookie of the Year award has been shared three times throughout the years. That includes Portland’s Geoff Petrie and Boston’s Dave Cowens in 1971, the Mavs’ Jason Kidd and Detroit’s Grant Hill in 1995, and Houston’s Steve Francis and Chicago’s Elton Brand in 2000.