SANTA MONICA, Calif. – In some circles, there’s a debate over whether Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic will hold off Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young and capture Rookie of the Year honors at the NBA Awards Show Monday at 8 p.m. (Dallas time) at the Barker Hangar.
Mavs center Salah Mejri has heard the chatter, but he isn’t buying into that theory.
“The only guy who is not even close – people are saying he is close, but for me he’s not even close — is Trae Young,” Mejri said. “Trae Young is a great player and he’s going to be a very good player in this league, but he only started doing great things after the All-Star break.
“You’re comparing 20-something games to almost 80 games. I don’t know how people do that. For me, Luka is the Rookie of the Year. No discussion there.”
Indeed, Doncic’s stats are superior to those of Young. Overall, Doncic averaged 21.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and six assists per game, and also shot 42.7 percent from the field and 32.7 percent from 3-point range while producing eight triple-doubles.
By contrast, Young averaged 19.1 points, 3.7 rebounds and 8.1 assists, shot 41.8 percent from the floor and 32.4 percent from behind the 3-point arc and finished with one triple-double. Young also didn’t exactly come on strong until after the All-Star break when he averaged 25 points and nine assists during the final 24 games of the season.
Mejri, however, noted that a season consists of way more than just 24 games.
“From the point of view from somebody who’s been in the league for four years, I saw a lot of rookies, but I never saw a rookie like Luka,” Mejri said. “The guy stepped in since Game 1 and he kept doing what he’s been doing since Day One.
“He’s been killing it, getting triple-doubles like this and playing good. He pretty much changed the whole team.”
When asked if he expects his name to be written on the Rookie of the Year trophy, Doncic said: “We’ll see. I’ll tell you when they say who it is.
“I mean, obviously I want to win it.”
Guard J. J. Barea acknowledged that there should be no discussion on who should be walking across the stage to pick up the Rookie of the Year hardware.
“I think (Doncic) should get it,” Barea said. “He was the best player for us and the best rookie from the get-go. He deserves it and hopefully next year that’ll give him a little push so he can be even better next year.
“(Young) had a great year too, but Luka was great from the beginning.”
Center Dwight Powell joined in on the debate by saying, “Obviously, I’m biased. But watching however many games (Doncic) played this season, I think he’s the clear Rookie of the Year.”
Some fence-sitters actually believe the Rookie of the Year trophy should be split between Doncic and Young. That’s unlikely to happen, given that more than 100 media members vote on the award, and the chances of Doncic and Young receiving the exact same amount of votes are very low.
Nevertheless, the Rookie of the Year winner has been split on three occasions. Boston’s Dave Cowens and Portland’s Geoff Petrie shared the award in 1971, the Mavs’ Jason Kidd and Detroit’s Grant Hill split it in 1995, and Chicago’s Elton Brand and Houston’s Steve Francis were co-winners in 2000.
Doncic set a blazing trail this past season by being named the Western Conference Rookie of the Month for every month, becoming the first player to sweep the conference monthly awards since Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns did it in 2015-16. Towns went on to win the Rookie of the Year award that season.
Young was the Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month in every month except December when New York Knicks forward Kevin Knox won the coveted award.
The Mavs basically gave Doncic the gold-plated keys to their franchise when they traded starters Dennis Smith Jr., DeAndre Jordan and Wesley Matthews to the New York Knicks on Jan. 31. They followed that up by trading starting forward Harrison Barnes to the Sacramento Kings on Feb. 6, leaving Doncic as the lone opening-day starter remaining on the roster.
Meanwhile, Donnie Nelson, the president of basketball operations and general manager of the Mavs, said he’s ecstatic for Doncic to be a strong candidate for Rookie of the Year honors.
“It’s not an easy task to come in with those kinds of pressures, especially in the point guard position,” Nelson said. “You’re thinking for coach, the team.
“We put a lot on him and he responded and I‘m just really, really proud of him.”
Forward Dirk Nowitzki, who announced his retirement in April after playing all 21 of his NBA seasons with the Mavs, put the Doncic-Young debate to rest with a thorough analysis on what occurred between the two phenoms this past season.
“I thought Trae Young had a fantastic season there at the end, but overall I think Luka was the most consistent,” Nowitzki said. “He was great early and he was great late.
“Obviously in this community we’re a little biased. We think Luka had the most impact.”