Dallas Mavericks

Doncic vs. Ayton III was a mismatch, but is Mavs or Suns young star atop NBA rookie race?

DeAndre Ayton struggled Wednesday night against Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks. The Phoenix Suns’ rookie has been good, but Doncic has been the better rookie so far.
DeAndre Ayton struggled Wednesday night against Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks. The Phoenix Suns’ rookie has been good, but Doncic has been the better rookie so far. AP

The 30-point, six-rebound, five-assist Wednesday for Luka Doncic wasn’t his best game of the season, but it was pivotal in the Dallas Mavericks’ 104-94 victory over the Phoenix Suns.

DeAndre Ayton said that his six-point, five-rebound, five-foul performance was one of the worst games he’s ever played, and it was a factor in the Suns’ loss at American Airlines Center.

Granted, each team was down a starter, with Mavs guard Dennis Smith Jr. and Suns guard Devin Booker each nursing a sore back. The Booker absence was significant, and Ayton’s no-show magnified it.

But two rookies - two of the top three picks in the 2018 NBA Draft - continue to dictate the fate of their teams. They are different players, Doncic a point-forward who seemingly does everything and Ayton an athletic big man with some range on his jumper.

Halfway through the season, regardless of who did what Wednesday, it’s apparent that both will be stars for many seasons to come.

“They’ve both been terrific,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. “It tells me and everyone else that it was a tremendous draft. A lot of guys are having a big impact, too. But these two are certainly the most featured of the group.

“It’s been good to watch. It’s a lot of responsibility that they’ve taken on with their respective teams, and they don’t shy away from it or dodge. That’s good to see.”

For those hung up on numbers, Doncic leads all NBA rookies in scoring at 19.8 points a game. Ayton is second at 16.5.

Ayton leads in rebounds at 10.6 per game. Doncic is third, with 6.7.

Doncic is second in assists 4.9 per game. Ayton is first in double-doubles (25).

Doncic also has the edge in youth, still seven weeks shy of his 20th birthday. Ayton turns 21 in July.

Each is doing what his team is asking of him, and then some. Each is learning the nuances of the NBA, with Doncic’s learning curve accelerated by his career in Europe. He has more polish and has been more consistent.

“I’m not surprised by anything he does. He’s an amazing player,” Mavs center DeAndre Jordan said. “He can see a lot of things on the floor. He can score the basketball well. He makes a lot of great plays out there.”

Doncic has the most complete skill set and most advanced game among rookies, and that gives him the edge in the competition to be the best in the NBA. But he and Ayton are running 1-2 with Trae Young, who was traded by the Mavs to acquire Doncic from the Atlanta Hawks, third in what looks like a three-man race.

The bottom line is that Doncic and Ayton are going to be stars for years to come. That much is evident in their rookie seasons.

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After 11 seasons covering the Rangers for the Star-Telegram, Jeff Wilson knows that baseball is a 24/7/365 business and there is far more to baseball than just the 162 games each season. There’s also more to Jeff -- like a family and impressive arsenals of Titleist hats and adidas shoes -- but sometimes it’s hard to tell.
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