In the end, there can be only one.
And I’ll just come right out and say it: Luka Doncic is my pick to win this year’s Kia Rookie of the Year.
There’s no reason to beat around the bush or put off the announcement. Doncic came out of the gate firing (and hitting), so why shouldn’t I?
The Slovenian, whom the Mavericks landed last June in a Draft-night trade with Atlanta (for, of course, fellow rookie Trae Young), arrived as a 19-year-old with three years of experience playing alongside seasoned professionals with Spain’s Real Madrid.
And it showed. Doncic displayed no fear or trepidation and captured the nation’s hearts with his stepback 3-pointers, floaters in the lane, and all-around game that was far from what we’re used to seeing from rookies. He was a game-changer, and the Mavericks have a transcendent player to take the reins after Dirk Nowizki’s 21-year reign in Dallas.
Sure, Young caught fire after the All-Star break to make things interesting, and he had some performances to remember. He had an incredible 49-point, 16-assist showing in a loss to the Chicago Bulls, becoming just the third rookie with a 40-10 game (joining LeBron James and Michael Jordan). He also had seven 30-point, 10-assist games, surpassing Stephen Curry and LeBron James for most ever by a rookie.
By almost every metric, Doncic outpaced the field. He led all rookies in scoring while becoming the only rookie to average 20 points, seven rebounds and five assists since Oscar Robertson did it in 1961. He finished the season with eight triple-doubles, good enough for third-most by a rookie, behind Robertson and the reigning Kia ROY, the Philadelphia 76ers’ Ben Simmons. And despite cooling off at the end of the season, he’ll still finish with better effective field-goal and true shooting percentages than what Young boasts.
But in the end, Young’s slow start was just too much to overcome. He definitely made things interesting, and he should grab some votes, but Doncic gets my vote in what turned out to be a closer-than-expected race for Kia Rookie of the Year.
* * *
1. Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks
Last week: No. 2
After falling to second for the last four Rookie Ladders, Doncic takes the top rung when it matters most. This piece gives extra weight to recent play, so Young deserved the first spot down the stretch. He was playing at a level that Doncic wasn’t quite matching. But when you look at the body of work, which this final Rookie Ladder does, Doncic gets the final nod. Among his notable statistics, he finishes the season with eight triple-doubles, good enough for third most by a rookie (trailing only Robertson and Simmons). Years from now, when Doncic is a perennial All-Star and potential Kia MVP candidate, we’ll look back at this rookie campaign fondly. It was a fun ride, and it was fun watching Doncic bring joy and passion to the court every night.
2. Trae Young, Atlanta Hawks
Last week: No. 1
If there was an award given to the best rookie after the All-Star break, Young would easily get it. What Young did offensively after the All-Star break was inspiring, and the fact that he actually made people reconsider Doncic for the top spot is worth praising. Young averaged 24.7 points, 4.7 rebounds and 9.2 assists per game while shooting 44.2 percent from the field (34.8 percent on 3-pointers). The Hawks were 10-14 after the All-Star break and the signs are there that Young — alongside John Collins and whomever comes in the 2019 draft — and the Hawks have a bright future. “Besides the one month (November) I didn’t shoot the ball well, I think I had a really good season as far as making plays, getting my teammates involved and scoring when needed,” Young told USA TODAY Sports. “One thing I wanted to do was bring life back to the city of Atlanta, and we’ve done a great job of doing that.”
3. Deandre Ayton, Phoenix Suns
Last week: Not ranked
Ayton had moments when he could disappear, but when you look at his whole rookie season, the numbers show the Suns have a potential All-Star big man they can build around. In 71 games, the No. 1 pick averaged 16.3 ppg (fourth) and 10.3 rpg (first) while shooting 58.5 percent. His defense is a work in progress, but he still managed to get a block and steal per game. “I think I’ve seen the trenches a little bit, but I won’t say I went through all bad,” Ayton said in his Suns exit interview. “We did a lot of great things, learned a lot of great things. I feel I definitely got better, stronger. Stronger mentally as well.”
4. Marvin Bagley, Sacramento Kings
Last week: No. 3
The Kings were in playoff contention for most of the season, and Bagley’s contributions off the bench were a big reason. Sacramento sought a long-term fit when they took Bagley second overall, and he proved his worth, especially down the stretch. He’ll finish fifth among rookies in scoring (14.9 ppg) and third in rebounding (7.6) and his numbers after the All-Star break show his improvement (18.5 ppg and 9.2 rpg). Kings fans might always wonder what could have been if they’d grabbed Doncic, but if Bagley’s first year is any indication, the Kings’ fortunes are only going to improve with time.
5. Collin Sexton, Cleveland Cavaliers
Last week: No. 5
Sexton looked lost early in the season, leading many to wonder if he had what it took to be an NBA point guard. But by the end of March, those concerns were put to rest and Sexton proved he has a future as a scoring point guard. While he never put up big assist numbers (3.0 apg), Sexton will finish third among rookies in scoring (16.7 ppg) thanks to a March that saw him average 22.4 points on 51 percent shooting (44.7 on 3s). For the season (he played all 82 games), his shooting numbers are excellent — 43 percent overall, 40.2 on 3-pointers (first among rookies), 83.9 on free throws (1st) — and actually better than both Doncic and Young.
Just missed the cut:
Jaren Jackson, Memphis Grizzlies
Jackson only played 58 games (starting 56), before being sidelined in February by a right quad injury, but what he did in that time will earn him plenty of All-Rookie first team love. The lanky No. 4 pick averaged 13.8 points (sixth) and 4.7 rebounds (eighth) on 50.6 percent shooting (35.9 on 3-pointers) in 26.2 minutes per game. But Jackson also proved to be one of the best rookie defenders, getting 1.4 bpg (second) and 0.9 spg and will be a force on both ends for years to come.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, LA Clippers
The point guard out of Kentucky was steady all season and was a big reason the Clippers are in the playoffs. He finishes ninth in scoring (10.8 points), but he was effective in getting his points, hitting at a 47.6 percent clip (36.7 on 3-pointers). He played all 82 games, starting 73 and got better as the season progressed. “I was high on him,” Rivers told The Athletic. “I said it when we drafted him. I said, ‘He’s gonna be a star.’ Then in camp, I was really high on him because you could just see it. I didn’t know where he was going this year or when he was gonna get there. But he’s gonna be really good. He’s just going to keep getting better.”
Landry Shamet, LA Clippers
Shamet’s scoring numbers aren’t staggering, but he was the best shooter of this class and did it for two playoff teams (the Sixers, then the Clippers after a midseason trade). He averaged 9.1 points while leading all rookies in 3-point shooting (42.2 percent, 11th among all players). With the Clippers facing the Golden State Warriors in the first round, he’ll be on a big stage while most other rookies are left watching.
Mitchell Robinson, New York Knicks
The Knicks had several rookies leave their mark. Kevin Knox had his ups and downs and finished as one of the Top 10 scorers. Allonzo Trier also ended up in the Top 10. But the Knicks’ best rookie may have been Robinson, who emerged as a defensive force, leading all rookies in blocks (2.4 per game, No. 2 overall in NBA) while grabbing 6.4 rebounds per game (fifth) and scoring 7.3 points on 69.7 percent shooting. For a second-round pick, he might end up being a steal for New York.
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(All stats through Wednesday, April 10)
The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.
Report: Chris Paul wants out of Houston
The Houston Rockets have major decisions to make this offseason, especially if the latest reports from Vincent Goodwill of Yahoo Sports are true.
According to Goodwill, the dynamic between Rockets stars James Harden and Chris Paul has become “unsalvageable” after a difficult season in Houston.
The relationship has reportedly reached the point where Paul demanded a trade and Harden issued a “him or me” ultimatum after the Rockets’ second-round loss to the Golden State Warriors.
— Vincent Goodwill (@VinceGoodwill) June 18, 2019
Here’s more from Goodwill on the reported problems in Houston:
The backcourt mates went nearly two months without speaking to each other during the season, sources said, creating a tenuous environment for teammates and everyone involved with the franchise.
Harden hasn’t returned Paul’s repeated attempts at communicating this offseason, sources said, after a year in which the pair repeatedly got under each other’s skin with petty acts in practices and games.
“There’s no respect at all, on either side,” a source told Yahoo Sports. “They need to get away from one another. Chris doesn’t respect James’ standing in the league, and James doesn’t respect the work Chris has put in to this point.”
Paul’s injury-related absences and grating personality have annoyed Harden, sources said.
Harden’s ball-dominant style and unwillingness to give others like Paul space to operate have grated on Paul, leading to the nine-time All-Star issuing his trade demand to Rockets general manager Daryl Morey after the season.
Sources said Paul would curse at head coach Mike D’Antoni about the offense bogging down after Harden would ask to come into the game to join the second unit, with Paul heading to the bench.
“It can’t be fixed,” another league source told Yahoo Sports about the Harden-Paul partnership.
If the Rockets do decide to trade Paul, they may have a difficult time finding a trade partner. The 34-year old guard reportedly is due to make $38.5 million, $41.3 million and $44.2 million over the next three seasons, which would be a lot of salary for another team to absorb in a trade.
Paul — who missed 24 regular season games due to injury — finished the 2018-19 season with averages of 15.6 points, 8.2 assists, 4.6 rebounds and 2.0 steals.
Lawyer: Deputy in clash with Ujiri has concussion
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A deputy suffered a concussion and is on medical leave after an altercation with the president of the Toronto Raptors as he tried to join his team on the court to celebrate their NBA championship, a lawyer said Tuesday.
The 20-year-veteran of the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office also has a serious jaw injury and is considering filing a lawsuit against Raptors President Masai Ujiri, attorney David Mastagni said.
“The officer is off work, disabled and wants to go back to work,” Mastagni said. The name of the deputy has not been released.
The clash between the deputy and Ujiri happened as the deputy checked court-access credentials after the game Thursday in Oakland against the Golden State Warriors.
Authorities say Ujiri tried to walk past the deputy but the deputy stopped him because he didn’t see Ujiri’s on-court credentials.
Ujiri pushed the deputy, who pushed him back before Ujiri “made a second, more significant shove and during that shove his arm struck our deputy in the side of the head,” sheriff’s Sgt. Ray Kelly said. He said Ujiri also shouted obscenities.
Several bystanders intervened and Ujiri got onto the court without displaying any credentials, Kelly said.
Investigators were questioning witnesses and the office hopes to file a report to prosecutors this week recommending a misdemeanor battery charge against Ujiri, Kelly said.
They are also reviewing footage from body cameras worn by the deputy along with footage from the arena surveillance system and cellphones.
The office does not plan to release the deputy’s body camera footage to the public during the investigation, Kelly said.
Kelly confirmed the officer is on medical leave.
The Raptors said last week the team was cooperating with the investigation and gathering information on its own. It had no further comment Tuesday.
Warriors fan Greg Wiener, who witnessed the altercation, said last week the incident began when the deputy put his hand on Ujiri’s chest and pushed him. Ujiri shoved him back before bystanders intervened, Wiener said.
He also said then that there was no conversation between the deputy and Ujiri. But on Tuesday, he said he remembered the officer shouting, “No one gets on the court without credentials.”
Wiener said he recalled the detail “after thinking about it all weekend.”
Study: NBA, WNBA earn high grades in diversity hiring
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — A diversity report shows the NBA still leads men’s professional sports leagues in racial and gender hiring practices.
The annual report card from The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES) at Central Florida on Tuesday indicated almost identical scores from last year. The grade for racial hiring was an A-plus with an unchanged 98.7 score. The grade for gender hiring was a B, but slid slightly to 80.9.
The overall grade was an A at 89.8. That was better than Major League Soccer’s B-plus, the NFL with a B and Major League Baseball with a B-minus. The NHL doesn’t participate in the study.
The only professional league with a higher grade from the past year was the WNBA, with an overall A-plus and 97.6 score.
Richard Lapchick, the TIDES director and lead report author, said the NBA has “always had a leadership position” regarding diversity initiatives. The study’s release comes less than a week after the Cleveland Cavaliers hired California women’s head coach Lindsay Gottlieb from the college level as an assistant coach, making her the seventh woman serving as an assistant coach or player development staffer.
“We always look forward to this report in particular because we know we’re going to see encouraging things,” Lapchick said in an interview with The Associated Press.
The study examined the racial and gender breakdowns in numerous areas, such as players, coaches, trainers, front-office staffers at the team level and positions at the NBA headquarters. It reviewed data from the 2018-19 season.
The report was particularly good for the NBA league office. It earned an A-plus for racial hiring with 37.6% of professional staff positions filled by people of color, the highest percentage recorded in the study. Women made up 39.7% of those positions for a gender grade of B-plus.
Those were both better than scores for the team level, where people of color made up 31.6% of team management positions (still an A-plus) and women filled 30.9% of those positions for a gender grade of a C.
The league also had 10 head coaches of color among the 30 franchises to start the season and earned an A-plus for its initiatives to promote diversity. Lapchick pointed to an emphasis starting under former commissioner David Stern in the 1980s.
“The NBA is the only league that didn’t have to enact a Rooney rule,” said Lapchick, referring to the NFL’s rule requiring teams to interview at least one minority candidate when searching for a head coach.
“They’ve just been hiring the best candidates and bringing in a diverse pool of candidates since David took over. And then he pushed that to the team level, where they don’t have control but they do have a lot of influence.”
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