The Kia Rookie of the Year race is suddenly getting very interesting.
Trae Young is making sure of that.
Last week, I wrote that Young was pushing the Dallas Mavericks’ Luka Doncic thanks to back-to-back 36-point games. Looking back on things, I should’ve given him the top rung last week.
But then, Young had a performance for the ages, scoring 49 points with 16 assists and eight rebounds in last Friday’s four-overtime loss to the Chicago Bulls. Young was 17-for-33 in the 168-161 thriller, hitting six 3-pointers while playing 56 minutes.
His performance won over at least one opponent — Bulls veteran guard Zach LaVine.
“Trae Young is an incredible talent,” said LaVine, who finished with a career-high 47 points himself. “You can already see. He has the ‘it’ factor.”
Young’s outburst put him in some rarefied air, as well. He is only the third rookie to notch a 40-point, 10-assist game, joining Michael Jordan (he did it twice) and LeBron James. He also became just the fourth player (of any kind) to tally a 45-point, 15-assist game. The others? James Harden, Isiah Thomas and Gail Goodrich. Vince Carter, his 42-year-old teammate, has seen Young’s progress, and likes how the Hawks’ rookie has grown.
“Everything’s starting to slow down for him and everything’s starting to make sense for him,” Carter said. “This is my opinion, but the best thing that happened to him was the struggle in the beginning (of the season) … Now, he’s reaping the benefit of it. It’s been a blessing in disguise. Maybe he doesn’t see it, or his fans, but what it’s done for him now has been unreal.”
Even though Young came back to earth (including getting ejected Sunday in Chicago) after his big night, I’m not going to make the same mistake I made last week.
For now, I’m giving Young the top rung.
Whether he can hold on to it will be a different story.
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1. Trae Young, Atlanta Hawks
Last week: No. 2
As mentioned above, Young came back to earth after his huge night against the Bulls. He had 18 points and was well on his way to another big showing in the second matchup with Chicago before being ejected for taunting in the third quarter. He followed that up with a 14-point night (missing all four 3-point attempts) with eight assists in a loss in Miami, then put up 22 points, six rebounds and four assists in a loss to the Spurs on Wednesday. He was just 1-for-7 from beyond the arc and 8-for-24 overall. If this is what we’re going to see from the Hawks rookie down the stretch, Doncic will certainly grab back the top rung.
2. Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks
Last week: No. 1
Doncic certainly hasn’t done much wrong to earn this demotion. Call it rewarding Young for his recent hot streak. Over three games this week, Doncic averaged 23 points, seven rebounds and 3.3 assists per game while also getting 2.3 steals and 1.3 blocks per game. Those solid numbers were certainly helped by Wednesday’s line of 31-11-7 with four steals in a 132-123 loss to the Wizards. On the season, Doncic still holds the edge over Young due to his consistency and sheer volume of big games, but he’ll need to keep pushing if he wants to gain back his top rung. Wednesday’s showing against the Wizards was a good start.
3. Deandre Ayton, Phoenix Suns
Last week: No. 5
The Suns are on a three-game winning streak — yes, you read that right — and Ayton has been key to all three wins. In the first of the three, the No. 1 overall pick owned the Lakers inside, putting up 26 points, 10 rebounds with a pair of steals and a block. He followed that with another double-double, putting up 19 points and 12 rebounds in a huge upset over the league leading Bucks. Ayton’s defense on Giannis Antetokounmpo, though, is what had everyone raving. Ayton blocked three shots and generally caused problems for “The Greek Freak,” leading ESPN’s Paul Pierce to compare the rookie to Hall of Famer David Robinson on Tuesday’s episode of “The Jump”.
4. Landry Shamet, LA Clippers
Last week: Not ranked
Shamet seems to be finding his role with the Clippers, becoming the reliable 3-point shooter he’d been early in the season before being traded from the Sixers in the Tobias Harris deal. Shamet has scored in double digits in his last three games (all wins), averaging 17.7 ppg while shooting 50 percent overall and 53.6 percent from beyond the arc (15-for-28). If the Clippers are going to make a run at the playoffs, Shamet could play a big role.
5. Mitchell Robinson, New York Knicks
Last week: No. 4
Robinson’s numbers regressed slightly in four games this week, but he’s still proving to be a beast in the paint, especially on the defensive end. In four games, Robinson averaged 10 ppg, 8.8 rpg and 3 bpg in just 23 minutes per game. DeAndre Jordan returned to the Knicks’ lineup Wednesday night after missing five games, so Robinson could see his playing time dip even further down the stretch. Or, if the Knicks are wise, they’ll let the young big man run free in the paint and do his thing to see just what they’ve got.
Just missed the cut
Allonzo Trier, New York Knicks
Trier had a very impressive week as the Knicks struggle to find wins (they lost all four games this week). He averaged 19.8 points and 4.3 rebounds in almost 30 minutes per game, highlighted by a 29-point outburst in a 115-108 loss in Sacramento. Since the All-Star break, Trier has been one of the best rookie scorers, averaging 18 ppg on 52.1 percent shooting and 52.4 percent on 3-pointers.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, LA Clippers
Gilgeous-Alexander had a great week as the Clippers put up a three-game winning streak with wins over the Kings, Knicks and Lakers. Gilgeous-Alexander averaged 14.7 ppg on 54.8 percent shooting (6-for-8 on 3-pointers) and, even more importantly, only committed two turnovers total in those three games.
Harry Giles III, Sacramento Kings
Giles has become a crucial part to the Kings’ rotation, especially since fellow rookie Marvin Bagley III (two IIIs on the same team has to be a record) was sidelined by a sprained knee. Over his last four games, Giles has averaged 14 ppg and 5.4 rpg in 19.4 mpg. He won over Sacramento fans after being ejected in the Kings’ win over the Knicks on Monday. Buddy Hield says Giles is “obviously our best passer” and De’Aaron Fox is loving Giles’ boost off the bench. “He goes out there and plays with energy all the time,” Fox said. “Sometimes he plays with too much energy, but it’s something every team needs.”
Rodion Kurucs, Brooklyn Nets
Kurucs saw an increase in playing time this week, and made the most of it with three straight double-digit games. In those games, he averaged 13.3 ppg, 6.7 rpg and 1.7 bpg as the Nets went 2-1 with wins against the Mavs and Cavs. Against Dallas, Kurucs was 5-for-7 from beyond the arc and finished with 19 points to spark the win.
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(All stats through Wednesday, March 6)
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