After more than a month of speculation following the Atlanta Hawks vaulting to third in the 2018 NBA Draft, the top five picks came and went and Atlanta was heavily involved in two spots, as they sent the third pick in the draft to Dallas in exchange for the Mavericks’ fifth pick and a lightly-protected 2019 first.
Officially, Atlanta selected Slovenian and Real Madrid superstar Luka Doncic on Thursday night, but the trade was already agreed to and reported before Adam Silver walked up to announce Doncic’s name to the crowd. Trae Young was Atlanta’s man at No. 5, as Hawks general manager Travis Schlenk saw both players at the same level and was willing to move down in order to pick up another future asset.
In theory, this trade looks very similar to the 2017 trade between Boston and Philadelphia, in which Boston moved down from No. 1 to No. 3, still got their guy in Jayson Tatum, and picked up a 2019 first-round pick from the 76ers. Atlanta is banking on similar results with this trade, as Tatum proved himself to be far better than Markelle Fultz in their rookie seasons in addition to the extra pick the Celtics picked up. The value of picking up another first-rounder that projects to be in the top ten could tip the scales in the Hawks’ favor, but losing out on a potential all-around superstar in Doncic has many analysts (including yours truly) questioning Atlanta’s decision making.
Depending on what happens with incumbent point guard Dennis Schröder, Trae Young may slot in as the starting point guard for the Hawks, which will put his shot-making and playmaking talents on full display immediately. A high-level scorer and passer at Oklahoma, Young brings a tantalizing offensive package to the table; his shooting ability has drawn comparisons to Stephen Curry and Damian Lillard.
He’s got every move in the book: pull-ups, stepbacks, and hesitation dribbles going both toward either hand with range that’s already extended out to the NBA three-point line. Young already has two-level scoring in the bag and whether he can add the efficient finishing to his game early in his career will make or break whether he’s an All-Star or solely above average on the offensive end.
Young has a great handle, navigates pick-and-roll at an extremely high level, and is easily the second-best passer in this draft class (behind, of course, Doncic). Always on balance with the ball in his hands, he sees the floor very well for his height and can make any pass on the floor with either hand. Turnovers will be an issue for him, as they are with most young point guards, but the confidence he has in his offensive game will not waver with missed shots or errant passes.
On the other end of the floor is where Young’s game falls apart — he’s small, doesn’t always give high effort, and will be picked on relentlessly by opposing teams. He doesn’t get through ball screens well, doesn’t have the size or length to bother bigger point guards, and has no switchability along the perimeter.
If he’s a generational offensive talent, the defensive weaknesses will be fine. If he’s unable to get inside and finish or his playmaking doesn’t translate to the NBA level, it’s tough to see how he’ll warrant being selected so high in the draft.
After the picks were made, Schlenk talked to the media at the Hawks’ practice facility in Atlanta, saying, “We love his ability to pass the ball, to make other players better. Obviously he gets a lot of notoriety for his long-range shooting but I think his ability to pass the ball is what we really liked.”
While it’s great that the front office was focused on more than just Young’s shooting ability, if their focus was on playmaking for teammates, there was no better pick than Doncic, who is perhaps the best passer to come through the draft in a decade. Doncic has every bit of the passing skill Young brings to the table, except he’s six inches taller and has been playing against professional defenses since Young was a sophomore in high school.
Many iterations of this trade were reportedly bandied about between the Mavericks and Hawks before settling on a deal that did not include swapping players. Obviously, it remains to be seen where the 2019 pick comes in and how the respective careers of Young and Doncic pan out, but based on the knowledge we have today, it seems like the Hawks gave up a generational talent to swing for the fences with Young.
If they hit a home run, the deal looks great. The ball is in the air and it doesn’t look like it’s headed over the fence, but only time will tell where it lands.