Assessing the Trae/Luka Trade Five Years Later

Photo Credit: Jerome Miron/USA Today Sports

The 2018 NBA draft class was a very, very interesting one. The Dallas Mavericks and Atlanta Hawks owned picks three and five in the first round. Each team was rebuilding, and had the chance to land their star player for the future. Eventually, the Hawks and Mavricks would make a trade that would see Atlanta walk away with Trae Young, and Dallas with Luka Doncic.

We’ve now progressed five years, and it’s time to take a look at how this trade impacted the futures of both teams.

The Trae/Luka Trade

Entering the draft, Atlanta had the third pick, while Dallas owned the fifth. The Suns and Kings selected Deandre Ayton and Marvin Bagley, leaving both Young and Doncic available. Dallas traded up to third, taking Luka before Memphis had a chance. Atlanta knew Memphis wouldn’t select Trae, so they accepted the trade and moved down into the fifth selection.

The Details

Hawks received: #5 overall pick (Trae Young), 2019 first round pick (top-five protected)

Mavericks received: #3 overall pick (Luka Doncic).

So, How are the Hawks Doing?

Atlanta has seen some success since this deal, but it has been more-so glimpses of potential rather than sustained success. Here’s how the Hawks have done since acquiring Young.

  • 2018-19: 29-53, 12th in Eastern Conference
  • 2019-20: 20-47, 14th in Eastern Conference
  • 2020-21: 41-31, 5th in Eastern Conference, lost in conference finals
  • 2021-22: 43-39, 8th in Eastern Conference, lost in first round
  • 2022-23: 41-41, 8th in Eastern Confernce, TBD

Atlanta struggled mightily for the first two years after the deal. While COVID-19 shortened the 2020 season, Atlanta finished with just 49 combined wins in the first two seasons of Young’s career. The tank slowly ensued, while Young began to develop.

Then, in 2021, everything changed. Atlanta finished 41-31, and faced a matchup against the New York Knicks in the first round. The Hawks took care of New York easily, with Trae Young becoming The Big Apple’s supervillian in the process. Atlanta then pulled off another, more surprising upset. Thanks to some help from Ben Simmons, Atlanta knocked off the 76ers in six games, and advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals for the second time since 1970.

This set up a matchup with the Milwaukee Bucks, another giant Atlanta would have to take down. This time, however, they were unsuccessful and lost in six. The past two years, Atlanta has reverted to an average team, finishing eighth in the conference each of the past two seasons. In 2022, the Hawks bowed out after winning just one game in the first round.

During his sophomore season, Young made the leap into stardom. Trae would finish the year scoring 29.6 points per game, over 9 assists, and over 4 rebounds. He shot 43%/36%/86%, which are impressive numbers given the sheer volume of shots he was taking, which was 20.8, the highest number in his career. Young would make his first All-Star team that year, and made the All-Star roster again in the 2021-22 season.

The Hawks have done a relatively good job at building a contender around him as well, although it may not have happened as well as they’d hoped in recent years. The Hawks notably added Dejounte Murray last off-season, although the price wasn’t cheap. They’ve also added Clint Capela, Bogdan Bogdanovic, and John Collins to pair with Trae.

What About Dallas?

The Mavericks have had some ups and downs after landing Luka Doncic.

  • 2018-19: 33-49, 14th in Western Conference
  • 2019-2020: 43-32, 7th in Western Conference, lost in first round
  • 2020-21: 42-30, 5th Western Conference, lost in first round
  • 2021-22: 52-30, 4th in Western Conference, lost in conference finals
  • 2022-23: 38-44, 11th in Western Conference

Their first year with Luka was all about development. Dallas finished near the bottom of the West in his first year, yet Doncic certainly made strides improving his game.

Year two is when things started to go into motion. The Mavericks traded for Kristaps Porzingis, giving Luka Doncic another star to play with. They wound up making the playoffs, but losing in six games to the Clippers. The following year, Dallas lost to the Clippers again in the first round.

The 2021-22 season was their best with Luka so far. Dallas won over 50 games, and hosted a playoff series for the first time. Dallas beat Utah in six games, and absolutely destroyed the Suns in a game seven in the second round. The Mavericks would go on to lose to Golden State in the conference finals. However, this season showed stark improvement.

Dallas was on the same path this year, and ended up trading for Kyrie Irving before the trade deadline. Irving played well while in Dallas, but the team had to give up two of their already few above-average defenders, and the team spiraled. They could have potentially made the play-in tournament, but pretty openly tanked for a better draft pick as the season came to an end.

Who Won the Trae/Luka Trade?

As of now, this remains one of the more even trades in recent memory. Both teams have had eerily similar experiences.

Both franchises had a tanking period. Atlanta was bad for two years, while Dallas was for one. Then, by the third season in each player’s career, they had made the playoffs.

The farthest the Hawks have gotten is the conference finals. The same can be said for the Mavericks. Both teams upset a major opponent in the second round. Atlanta beat Philadelphia, while Dallas beat Phoenix.

The only thing that can change it from here would be the Hawks upcoming playoff run. Trae Young and co. will play Boston in the first round after advancing in the play-in. If the Hawks can make a deep playoff run, then this trade won’t look so even. For now, it does.

Luka Doncic is on a different level

Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Luka Doncic, the Dallas Mavericks’ superstar point guard, is putting the NBA on notice for anyone who questions his game. If there were any doubts about his determination to lead his team to victory, they were put to rest after Sunday’s performance. Now, he faces his toughest challenge of his career against the Golden State Warriors. But he’s shown time and time again that he’s not afraid.

He dominated a 60 win team

When he faced the top-seeded Phoenix Suns, the odds were plainly stacked against him. No one anticipated his team to win this series. Throughout the series, even in games where he lost, he averaged an incredible 32 points, 10 rebounds, seven assists, and two blocks. Whoever the Suns chose to try and defend him was added to Luka’s highlight reel for the night.

If there was a game where it was clearly evident that Luka is simply on a different level it was games six and seven. After being chastised by opponent Devin Booker for employing drama to get foul calls, dubbed the “Luka Special,” he summoned his inner Michael Jordan and took it personally.

In game six, he exploded for 33 points, 11 rebounds, eight assists, and four steals. He came up when it counted and forced a win-or-go-home game seven, and to say he rose to the occasion is an understatement. Luka was out for blood in that game, scoring the same number of points individually as Phoenix did as a team by halftime. He not only humbled the Suns, but he humiliated them on their own home court, defeating them by 33 points.

On Sunday, he served his own Luka Special in Pheonix, and everyone received it. The series cemented his status as a league star, despite the fact that he is only 23 years old.

Now on to the Warriors

Luka will face some pretty tough competition in a veteran Warriors team. Nobody on the opposing side of the court has a chance of containing him. He’s a scoring machine with a variety of moves in his arsenal, whether it’s in the low post or on the top of the key.

Simply put, Luka gives you everything you wish to see out of your young, talented players. During this series, the Warriors will almost certainly try to throw Klay Thompson or perhaps Draymond Green on him. While both are excellent defenders, they will have a difficult time stopping him.

The last time Luka faced this exact Warrior squad this season, he finished with 41 points, 10 rebounds, and nine assists. After defeating the Jazz and the Suns, there’s little doubt Luka isn’t afraid of the spotlight.