Mac Engel

It’s very possible the Cowboys, Mavs, and Stars all have rookie of the year winners

AP Photo

Luka Doncic, Miro Heiskanen and Leighton Vander Esch walk into a bar, but only one can legally drink.

When LVE is the old man in the crew and has to buy beer for his buddies, it’s party time.

This trio sounds like the top line for a European hockey team, and individually they are major scores for their respective franchises, and our entire deep-playoff run starved town.

Our local teams have stomped all over our sports’ heart lately, but these three kids are the hope we all need to keep going. All three are legitimate candidates to be named his respective league’s Rookie of the Year this season.

The Cowboys’ season is over, the Dallas Mavericks are not a playoff team today, and the Dallas Stars just barely would make it to the postseason. The Texas Rangers? Because my New Year’s Resolution to be upbeat is on life support, let’s just not talk about them.

The Cowboys, Mavs and Stars hit on these three rookies in a way franchises crave, so let us celebrate the fact that we have three guys who should finish 1, 2 and 3 in their respective Rookie of the Year voting.

Is it a playoff run? No, but at this point we need hope.

1. Luka Doncic, Mavs, G/F

Mavs GM Donnie Nelson was convinced Doncic was the best player in the ‘18 draft, only he had no idea he was this good. No one outside of the Doncic family did.

He was the third overall pick of the 2018 NBA Draft, and the Atlanta Hawks traded him to the Mavs in exchange for Trae Young, whom the team selected fifth.

Although top pick DeAndre Ayton averages a double-double in Phoenix, the NBA’s Rookie of the Year will be Doncic. The Mavs are going to build their entire roster around him, for good reason.

Doncic is 19, and he averages 20 points, 6.8 rebounds and 5.2 assists. Again, he is 19. In the first two months of his career, The Luka has been named the Rookie of the Month in the Western Conference twice.

The last player to win the Rookie of the Month in his first two months is Joel Embiid of the Philadelphia 76ers.

Doncic will be an All-Star next month; he currently ranks second in the West in All-Star voting, which ended on Monday night, and he trails only LeBron James.

Luka’s presence has made Dennis Smith Jr. expendable, and the Mavs will use Luka’s talents to recruit and sign free agents in the offseason. NBA free agents will want to play with Luka.

Of course, the Mavs said the same thing about Dirk Nowitzki and his impact in free agency was to land Chris Kaman.

One, Dirk was older when the Mavs, and the league rules, allowed for a college-like recruiting atmosphere. Two, Dirk didn’t want to be a door-to-door salesman.

Because of Luka’s youth, talent and personality, he may be able to sway a few players to actually sign with the Mavs as opposed to just using them for leverage.

The last time a Maverick won rookie of the year was Jason Kidd in 1995. If the Mavs do to Luka what they did to Kidd, whom they famously traded in 1996, give up on the franchise forever.

2. Miro Heiskanen, Stars, D

The Stars have searched for a Miro since Sergei Zubov lost a step in 2008. Instead of finding another Zubov they may have found Nick Lidstrom. If you don’t know hockey all that well, Lidstrom is one of the best defenseman in the modern era.

Heiskanen may be the one person who can save GM Jim Nill’s job; he has drafted, and spent big money, in hopes of landing a true No. 1 defenseman.

Like Luka, Miro is a 19-year-old Euro who plays like he’s almost a full decade older.

Miro is an NHL All-Star, and currently ranks second among rookie defensemen in scoring. He also leads all major rookies in average ice time at more than 23 minutes per game.

He deserves to win the NHL’s Calder Trophy as the top rookie, but he has a numbers problem. He does not have enough whereas Vancouver center Elias Pettersson does.

Don’t let that dissuade you from knowing that the Stars nailed it when they selected Heiskanen with the third overall pick in the 2017 NHL Draft. He is the player this franchise desperately needs, and can save the GM’s job.

3. Leighton Vander Esch, Dallas Cowboys, LB

The final impression we have of LVE this season is him sitting next to Sean Lee on the bench in Los Angeles as defensive coordinator Kris Richard yelled at both of them for getting their fannies kicked by the Rams in the playoffs.

The overall impression is that LVE is their long-term solution to replace Lee at the position. The 19th overall pick in the draft, Vander Esch is a franchise-building hit.

He’s a big, fast, athletic player who led the team in tackles, intercepted two passes, and was visible for all of the right reasons. The only time he looked over-matched was in the playoff loss to the Rams, when the rest of his teammates on defense were bad too.

LVE will not win the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Year award. Not because of the playoff loss, but rather because this category is stacked and includes Darius Leonard of the Indianapolis Colts.

All three of these young men - Luka, Miro and LVE - are exactly what a franchise could want when they were first round picks, and they represent the type of hope necessary a fan base needs to keep watching.

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Mac Engel is an award-winning columnist who has extensive experience covering Fort Worth-Dallas area sports for 20 years. He has covered high schools, colleges, all four major sports teams as well as Olympic games and the world of entertainment, too. He combines dry wit with first-person reporting to complement a head of hair that is almost unfair.
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