Coming out of the 2018 NBA Draft, the biggest story on everyone's mind was the massive trade between the Dallas Mavericks and the Atlanta Hawks. The Hawks had the third overall pick in the draft, although the Dallas Mavericks had their sights set on Slovenian superstar Luka Doncic. There was no guarantee that Doncic was going to be a star while he made a name for himself in Europe as opposed to the NCAA. Regardless, the Mavericks knew what they wanted and in the end, they got it, as the Hawks gave them the third overall pick in exchange for the fifth overall pick and a selection in 2019. With the aforementioned fifth pick, the Hawks took Trae Young out of Oklahoma.
As soon as Doncic and Young took the court for their rookie seasons, it became quite clear that they were both extremely special young talents. Doncic was doing LeBron-type things with the Mavericks all while Young was looking like the second coming of Steph Curry thanks to his three-point scoring capabilities. Throughout the season, Doncic had more individual and team success, which allowed him to win rookie of the year. In the following season, Doncic led the Mavericks to the NBA Playoffs, while Young and the Hawks missed the postseason, once again.
Tim Nwachukwu/Getty ImagesDespite having a considerably weaker team, many pundits began to talk down on Trae Young as they felt as though he wasn't doing enough to carry the team. Under normal circumstances, Young would have been able to escape criticism, however, since he was traded for Doncic, there was this underlying expectation that he had to rise above the Slovenian, at all costs. Even in the middle of the 2020-2021 season, most NBA fans agreed that the Mavericks won the trade as Doncic was taking the top spot amongst the league's great young stars. While this is all well and good, no one knew what they were in for when the Hawks got themselves the fifth overall seed in the Eastern Conference.
Heading into their matchup against the Knicks, it felt like every pundit had them losing. Of course, there was no basis for this kind of analysis when you consider how the Knicks have been terrible for a long time, while Young was easily the best player on the court. Regardless, Young had never been to the playoffs before and fans were curious as to how he would react. After all, although he had been nothing short of phenomenal this season, there were still questions as to whether or not he could be a true superstar and carry his team to victory. In Game 1 of that Knicks series, Young got his haters to shut up as he played exceptionally well, and scored 32 points. Throughout the series, Young consistently put up 30 points or more and made quick work of the Knicks in just five games. Not to mention, Young was able to become a villain in the city of New York, which is the true definition of a player who embraces the pressure and everything that comes with it.
Tim Nwachukwu/Getty ImagesIn the second round, no one was giving the Hawks a chance, and for good reason. They were going up against the Philadelphia 76ers who finished with the best record in the Eastern Conference. With Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons on the roster, these two bigs were supposed to be able to shut Young down and sweep him in four. Once again, Young shocked the world and took Game 1 thanks to an epic 35-point performance that proved just how dominant Young can be when he gets hot from beyond the arc. While the 76ers eventually took the lead in the series, Young stayed with it and came through with some incredible performances, including Game 5 where he scored 39 points. Unfortunately, his Game 7 performance left a lot to be desired, nonetheless, his team pulled off the upset, thanks to the foundation he laid with his play. Throughout that entire second-round series, Young averaged 29 points per game, further proof that Young is, indeed, a superstar in this league.
Now, Young and the Hawks are playing the Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference Finals and at the time of writing this, the Hawks are up 1-0 in the series. The Hawks' Game 1 victory came on the back of Young, who scored 48 points to become the first player in NBA history to score that many points in their first Conference Finals game. In just his third season in the league, Young is showing tremendous poise and every single night he gives us shades of Steph Curry. If this is what he's doing at just 22 years old, then we can only imagine what he will be doing when he hits his prime. With Luka out of the playoffs, it's clear that Young has now shifted the conversation when it comes to who is the best player between the two. In addition to this, if Young can somehow overcome the odds and lead the Hawks to an improbable championship this season, there will be a very obvious answer as to who won the trade between the Hawks and the Mavericks.
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