Trae Young has been picking up a ton of Rookie of the Year momentum in the giant kangaroo court that is NBA Twitter.
Especially among the hey-look-at-the-highlights crowd, the Barkley and Scott-Hollins Syndrome and “eye test” people, who if you’re reading hi welcome to Pace and Space we don’t do that here, Young is the rallying cry for the backlash against a season of people anointing Luka Doncic as Rookie of the Year and treating the debate as settled.
Now granted, there’s some merit to the idea that Young should get the benefit of the doubt if you believe that rookies who overcome slow welcome-to-the-NBA starts (especially guards, who tend to shoot poorly in their first few games) and come on like a house of fire after the All-Star Game should be judged not on how they start but by how they finish.
And other people point out that Doncic has had more than his share of complete Dumpster fires in the box score, especially on the road.
But let’s have one thing understood. Luka Doncic isn’t just Rookie of the Year. He’s putting together one of the best advanced-stat seasons of any rookie since the ABA/NBA merger.
Luka has 2.8 VORP. He is on pace, assuming he continues his level of production that he’s done in the Mavericks’ games so far, to post 3.6 VORP for the season.
If he doesn’t play another minute between now and the end of the year, that 2.8 will put him 33rd since 1976-77. If he continues his pace, he’ll have the 17th-best rookie season in the past 42 years.
And if we project Luka out to 3.6 VORP, among active players, only Chris Paul, Ben Simmons, and Blake Griffin have posted better numbers as rookies—and if you want to nitpick, Simmons and Griffin both had a year to acclimate to the NBA before they played a game, due to injuries wiping out what would have been their rookie years.
All the same, the only player younger than 20 to post a better rookie season by VORP than Luka’s current 2.8?
LeBron James, that’s who. LeBron had 3.1 VORP in 2003-04, his age-19 season.
So that’s Luka’s case. What has Trae Young done?
Well, for starters, there’s that whole since-the-All-Star thing.
In seven games since the All-Star Game, Young has 29.4 points per game on 64-of-135 (47.4 percent) shooting and 26-of-55 (47.2 percent) from three. His Hawks are 3-4, while Young himself is plus-36 during his minutes on the floor.
Young is also averaging 9.3 assists per game in that stretch.
But that is a seven-game stretch in what is so far a 63-65 game season.
Doncic is putting up all-time great rookie numbers.
And we can’t discount just how putrid Young was to start the season.
Even with his torrid pace since the All-Star break, Young is still posting negative (as in “someone from the G-League would be expected to do better”) VORP. And sure, that’s deceptive as hell because nobody sober would seriously suggest that after about the middle of December, anyone would seriously want to replace Ice Trae with a G-Leaguer, but Young was at one point one of the worst players in the entire league, matched only by the wretched numbers Collin Sexton is barfing out in Cleveland for a tanking Cavaliers team.
So I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, Trae fans.
Don’t get me wrong. I do seriously believe that Trae’s ceiling is still Stephen Curry. I love watching Young play, and if he keeps carrying the momentum from this year into next year, he’ll have a heck of a case for Most Improved Player. The Hawks neither won nor lost the Young-Doncic trade since I’d happily take either guy as a future franchise cornerstone.
But Luka is putting up a better rookie year than goddamn LeBron James.
To deny him the prize of Rookie of the Year would be a crime against season-long efficient basketball.
The Rookie of the Year debate isn’t a debate. It looks like one, it kind of smells like one, but it isn’t one.
Luka Doncic is one of the best rookies of all time. Trae Young is a guy with a ton of potential who was too bad for too long to match that kind of superlative.