Don­cic mak­ing Hawks look bad

San Francisco Chronicle (Sunday) - - SPORTING GREEN - BRUCE JENK­INS

Travis Sch­lenk left his ex­ec­u­tive post with the War­riors last year to be­come the At­lanta Hawks’ gen­eral man­ager, and he’s made a num­ber of moves that sug­gest a bright fu­ture. His call on Luka Don­cic, how­ever, ap­pears to be a dam­ag­ing mis­fire.

Don­cic is look­ing like a run­away win­ner of the Rookie of the Year award, at the ex­pense of Trae Young and two or three oth­ers, and that’s a prob­lem in At­lanta. The Hawks drafted Don­cic with the No. 3 over­all se­lec­tion, only to trade his rights to Dal­las for the fifth pick, which the Mav­er­icks used to take Young. The Hawks also picked up a firstround draft pick in the deal, giv­ing them the po­ten­tial of three first-round choices in 2019 (de­pend­ing on lot­tery pro­tec­tion in the fi­nal stand­ings), but if you’ve seen Don­cic in ac­tion, you can un­der­stand the At­lanta fans’ re­gret.

There’s noth­ing ter­ri­bly wrong with Young, who ba­si­cally ar­rived as ad­ver­tised: Un­lim­ited shoot­ing range,

Travis Sch­lenk left his ex­ec­u­tive post with the War­riors last year to be­come the At­lanta Hawks’ gen­eral man­ager, and he’s made a num­ber of moves that sug­gest a bright fu­ture. His call on Luka Don­cic, how­ever, ap­pears to be a dam­ag­ing mis­fire.

Don­cic is look­ing like a run­away win­ner of the Rookie of the Year award, at the ex­pense of Trae Young and two or three oth­ers, and that’s a prob­lem in At­lanta. The Hawks drafted Don­cic with the No. 3 over­all se­lec­tion, only to trade his rights to Dal­las for the fifth pick, which the Mav­er­icks used to take Young. The Hawks also picked up a first-round draft pick in the deal, giv­ing them the po­ten­tial of three first-round choices in 2019 (de­pend­ing on lot­tery pro­tec­tion in the fi­nal stand­ings), but if you’ve seen Don­cic in ac­tion, you can un­der­stand At­lanta fans’ re­gret.

There’s noth­ing ter­ri­bly wrong with Young, who ba­si­cally ar­rived as ad­ver­tised: in­lim­ited shoot­ing range, clever on the drive, in­ven­tive passer, slightly un­der­sized (6-foot-2) but ag­gres­sive and un­daunted. It’s just that Don­cic does all of those things bet­ter — and he’s 6-7. “An au­then­tic orig­i­nal,” Mav­er­icks coach Rick Carlisle

told re­porters this week. “He’s truly un­like any spe­cific player that I’ve ever seen.”

Com­ing out of Ok­la­homa, Young was billed as the next Stephen Curry — never a good call. You don’t com­pare a bud­ding gui­tarist to Jimmy Page,

or a big-splash young co­me­dian to Ge­orge Car­lin. Young has a Curry-like thirst for the ridicu­lously long shot, but so far this season, he’s shoot­ing a mis­er­able 24.8 per­cent from three­p­oint range. That’s likely to im­prove, but Don­cic owns a num­bers pack­age only a few NBA play­ers can match, av­er­ag­ing 18.5 points, 6.5 re­bounds and 4.3 as­sists per game, shoot­ing 44.3 per­cent from the floor and 38.2 per­cent on three­p­oint­ers.

It’s stun­ning to re­al­ize that Don­cic is only 19, un­til you learn that he was a bud­ding leg­end at 14 in Eu­rope (Real Madrid), out­play­ing grown men who couldn’t wait to rough him up. By the end of the 201718 EuroLeague season, he was right­fully be­ing called the most tal­ented teenager ever seen in the in­ter­na­tional game — and as Dal­las team­mate Dirk Now­itzki said, “Like a vet­eran who’s been in the league for 10 years, that’s how he car­ries him­self.”

Don­cic is not par­tic­u­larly fast or ath­letic, but he has a con­nois­seur’s knowl­edge of foot­work, de­cep­tion, spac­ing and an­gles. The ex­tent of his moves, and shot va­ri­ety, seem un­lim­ited. He con­trols games at his own pace, a bit like Houston’s James Har­den ,butina far less te­dious man­ner (in­ter­est­ing that Dal­las handed the Rockets a 20-point loss on their home court Wed­nes­day night). Per­haps best of all, he’s a nat­u­ral show­man. “I’ve never seen a guy en­joy the game so much dur­ing it,” team­mate J.J. Barea told SI.com. “If he does some­thing good, he can’t stop smil­ing. Even in prac­tice.”

How risky was the Hawks’ pref­er­ence for Young? “You will never get fired for tak­ing Don­cic No. 3,” ESPN’s es­teemed Zach Lowe said on his pod­cast. “You will get fired for trad­ing down to 5 if Trae Young isn’t good and Don­cic is awe­some. And it will mar the rest of your ca­reer.”

Young had one of the worst nights of the season when the Hawks played at Or­a­cle Arena last month (2-for-12 shoot­ing, four points in 28 min­utes), and he’ll be look­ing for atone­ment Mon­day night in At­lanta, the next stop on the War­riors’ road trip. A more in­trigu­ing date on the cal­en­dar is Dec. 22, when Don­cic and the Mav­er­icks come to Oak­land. Could be hol­i­day fare at its finest.

Around the NBA

⏩ The vastly dis­ap­point­ing Rockets have dealt with a num­ber of in­juries, but that’s noth­ing new in the NBA. This team has se­ri­ous prob­lems. Chris Paul has al­ready missed games, and his­tory sug­gests he’ll be side­lined again. Be­yond the core of Har­den, Paul, Clint Capela, P.J. Tucker and Eric Gor­don, not a sin­gle player on the ros­ter can be trusted, coach Mike D’An­toni ad­mit­ting the team’s depth is “a prob­lem.” New owner Til­man Fer­titta tight­ened the fi­nan­cial screws at a time when the team needed to con­tinue its all-out chal­lenge to Golden State. Gen­eral man­ager Daryl Morey, touted for his an­a­lyt­ics wis­dom, made glar­ing mis­takes in ac­quir­ing Carmelo An­thony (now departed), Bran­don Knight, Michael Carter-Wil­liams, Mar­quese Chriss and (it ap­pears) James En­nis. The de­fense has been atro­cious. Har­den is a scor­ing ma­chine but is asked to do too much, and he com­mit­ted 19 turnovers over a re­cent two-game stretch. This team needs to find its way back to re­spectabil­ity be­fore wor­ry­ing about the War­riors.

⏩ Joke mak­ing the rounds: Jimmy But­ler is be­com­ing the MVP of two teams. He’s been an in­stant hit in Philadel­phia, notch­ing two win­ning shots at the buzzer, and Min­ne­sota has come to life — par­tic­u­larly in the case of cen­ter Karl-An­thony Towns — since the trade.

⏩ Wil­lie Naulls died Nov. 22, leav­ing be­hind a legacy of ex­cel­lence at UCLA and the NBA, with mem­o­ries of a Bos­ton Celtics fran­chise al­ways at the fore­front of in­te­gra­tion. On a De­cem­ber night in 1964, at a time when sev­eral teams were re­luc­tant to em­ploy too many African Amer­i­can play­ers, coach Red Auer­bach fielded the first all-black start­ing lineup in league his­tory, Naulls join­ing Bill Rus­sell, Sam Jones, Tom San­ders and K.C. Jones. Auer­bach said he had “no idea” he was cre­at­ing an NBA land­mark. He just went with the play­ers he felt could help the Celtics win. Naulls played 10 years in the league, in­clud­ing a 47-game stint with the San Fran­cisco War­riors in 1962-63. He made four All-Star teams and had three straight sea­sons of 20-plus points per game with the Knicks.

Tom Pen­ning­ton / Getty Images

Luka Don­cic’s coach says the rookie for­ward is un­like any player he has ever seen.

Mark J. Ter­rill / As­so­ci­ated Press

Mav­er­icks rookie Luka Don­cic, shown driv­ing past Lak­ers for­ward Kyle Kuzma on Fri­day, is av­er­ag­ing 18.4 points.

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