On Friday, the NBA announced the finalists for the NBA Rookie of the Year award. The award is given yearly to the best first year player in the NBA as voted on by a global selection of sportswriters and broadcasters. Deandre Ayton of the Phoenix Suns, Trae Young of the Atlanta Hawks, and Luka Doncic of the Dallas Mavericks are finalists for the award.
So, who should win NBA Rookie of the Year this season?
Let’s take a look at how each player performed in 2018-19.
Deandre Ayton, C, Phoenix Suns
Coming into the league as the first overall pick in last year’s NBA draft, all eyes were on the Suns’ new big man. Ayton’s playing style is similar to that of the “old school” centres in the NBA that are almost non-existent nowadays. He can drive, dunk, and is a force to be reckoned with down low and in the paint. As opposed to his peers in the NBA nowadays, he can’t shoot the 3 ball. Like, he literally doesn’t. He didn’t make a single three all year. However, the 7 footer still had himself a great rookie season.
In 71 games this season, Ayton averaged 31 minutes per game, 16.3 points, 10.3 rebounds, and shot 58.5% (!!!) from the field. He made history, having the highest field goal percentage among NBA rookies who averaged a double-double. That list includes the likes of Tim Duncan, Hakeem Olajuwon and Shaquille O’Neal. Pretty good company, considering none of those players had as high of a FG% in their rookie season as Ayton did. Those are formidable numbers for a rookie, especially on a Suns team that won just 19 games this year.
With little success around Ayton this season, it’s noteworthy that he was able to score and shoot the way he did. At a time where traditional big men are extremely scarce, Deandre Ayton proved this season that there’s still room for a Shaq/Hakeem playing style in today’s game.
Trae Young, PG, Atlanta Hawks
Trae Young’s career started in a peculiar fashion. He was drafted by the Dallas Mavericks with the 5th overall pick in 2018. However, he was traded minutes later to Atlanta along with a 2019 top-5 protected first rounder for fellow ROY finalist Luka Doncic. In Atlanta this season, Young started 81 games and averaged 19.1 points, 8.1 assists and 3.7 rebounds per game. He shot just under 42% from the field and his 3P% was 32.4. The former Oklahoma star also led all rookies in total points (1549) and assists (653).
The stats speak for themselves in this case, as Trae Young showed his versatility as a guard but also his ability to stretch opponents’ defenses by shooting some long 3 pointers (35% on shots 30 to 40 feet away). Coming out of Oklahoma, some people were concerned about Young’s efficiency and size, along with his reliance on his shot. He silenced the doubters and put up a remarkable rookie season that has Hawks fans excited for the future.
Luka Doncic, SG, Dallas Mavericks
A highly touted prospect coming out of Real Madrid of the EuroLeague, Doncic was regarded as one of the top prospects in the 2018 NBA draft. Some felt that he was worthy of being selected first overall. However, Doncic slid to third and was subsequently traded to Dallas in the aforementioned Trae Young – Doncic draft night swap. With the Mavericks, Doncic had a tremendous rookie season. He was unanimously voted to be a first team NBA all-rookie, started in 71 games and averaged 21.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 6 assists. He supplemented these numbers with eight triple-doubles as well.
Warriors Head Coach Steve Kerr, who knows a thing or two about transcendent talents, was asked about Doncic. He compared Doncic to the likes of fellow Maverick Dirk Nowitzki and Kevin Durant as a dominant wing that can score as well as create plays for his teammates.
Doncic has not only met the lofty expectations that were set for him, he surpassed them. He accomplished everything that he wanted to at Real Madrid, winning a EuroLeague Championship, EuroLeague MVP, EuroLeague Final Four MVP and Liga ACB MVP all before the age of 20. Can he add another award, the NBA Rookie of the Year award to his trophy case?
After considering Ayton, Young and Doncic’s seasons, all three rookies had outstanding years in their own regard. While Ayton and Young both turned heads and played exceptional, in my opinion the NBA Rookie of the Year is Luka Doncic. He displayed the most complete, polished game, had more points per game than either player, showed incredible versatility as a “point forward” and ranked fourth in the NBA in total triple doubles. While all three players have tremendous careers ahead of them, Doncic had the best overall season and as a result, will have to make room on his mantle for yet another trophy.