Since the 2018-19 NBA season tipped-off, there has been a lone front-runner for Rookie of the Year: Luka Doncic. The Dallas Mavericks rookie started his career strong, averaging 17.7 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 4.2 assists in his first full month in the league, which won him Western Conference Rookie of the Month in November.
Doncic hasn’t slowed since his hot start and is near the top in several key rookie statistics. He is averaging 20.9 points (leads all rookies), 7.2 rebounds (2nd among rookies), and 5.5 assists (2nd among rookies). Doncic has also racked up four-straight Rookie of the Month awards and has been tagged as the probable NBA ROY for a while now.
However, it seems like a post-All-Star weekend breakout by Hawks point guard Trae Young has the ROY race heating back up. Young was no slouch through this first 58 games in the league (16.9 points, 7.6 assists per game), but has since kicked his game into overdrive. In his six games since the All-Star weekend, Young is averaging 29.4 points per game on 47.4 percent shooting from the floor, an incredible 47.3 percent on eight attempts per game from behind the three-point line, along with 9.3 assists per game. This has upped his season averages to 18.2 points (second among rookies) and 7.8 assists per game (leads all rookies) on the season.
While Young would need to keep up this production to compete with Doncic for the ROY award, people are jumping on the bandwagon now and it is only going to keep picking up momentum.
First off, recency bias could play a huge role in Young winning the award. While Doncic has been putting up good, solid numbers all season long, they haven’t been near Young’s 32 points and almost 10 assists per game stretch that he had going before being ejected in Sunday’s game against the Bulls. Having that kind of continued success in the second half of this season will help him catapult in the ROY debate closer to voting time.
Young’s recent success has also translated into wins for Atlanta, which will appeal to those who are in the anti-tanking boat. The Hawks are 3-4 during this seven-game stretch, which is incredible when you see the Hawks are 19-39 before the span. Meanwhile, Doncic and the Mavs have struggled heavily as of late, dropping seven of their last 10 contests, several where Doncic did not play at all due to injury.
That all being said, if you look at Doncic’s season in its entirety, most still draw the same conclusion of him winning Rookie of the Year. Doncic has been able to put up these numbers all season and, not to mention, Young’s numbers are a bit inflated. Young’s seven-game stretch includes playing no teams over .500 and two of the wins come against the tanking Suns and Chicago. In another game against the Bulls where he put up a massive 49-point, 16-assist performance, his team came up short in a quadruple overtime loss that definitely helped his stats.
Another factor most are ignoring is Young’s dismal defensive performances despite his offensive firepower. As shown here in Steve Ilardi’s tweet, Young’s defense has been very, very bad, almost bad enough to outweigh his offense.
Trae Young is not just a bad defender; he has the worst Defensive RPM in the NBA (-4.50). His defense is currently so poor that it dwarfs his positive contributions on the other side of the ball (+1.57 offensive RPM). His overall RPM (-2.97) ranks 82nd among 97 point guards.
— Steve Ilardi (@dr_ilardi) March 2, 2019
It is getting into crunch time in the Rookie of the Year race. Doncic has a steady lead as of now, but if Young can keep up his great offense (and step up his awful defense a little bit), he might be able to build a case for himself by the time the dust settles.