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Juicy Fruit Rookies

Rookie Ladder presented by Juicy Fruit: Is Luka Doncic or Trae Young the Rookie of the Year?

Juicy Fruit Rookie Ladder FTR.jpg
NBA Rookie Ladder (NBA.com Illustration)

Our Rookie Ladder throughout the season has focused on which first-year player has performed the best over the most recent two-week period, but now that the regular season is over with, it's time to take the entire season into consideration.

To fill out our Rookie of the Year ballot - which, we should add, doesn't count as an official vote - we polled a group of our NBA Global writers. What you'll find below is our final rookie rankings this season, in order, based on a point system from nine different ballots.

Here are our top five rookies from the 2018-19 season, starting with our pick for Rookie of the Year...

1. Luka Doncic, G/F, Dallas Mavericks (44 points)

Season stats: 21.2 points, 7.8 rebounds, 6.0 assists and 1.1 steals per game

It's easy to forget now, but the Mavericks were in playoff contention nearing All-Star Weekend and Doncic, a 19-year-old rookie at the time, was a big reason why. He was averaging an efficient 20 points per game through the first three months of the season and proved to be one of the league's more clutch players.

Doncic's shining moment in that regard came early in December, when he scored 11 straight points in the fourth quarter to lead the Mavericks in a comeback win over the Houston Rockets.

Doncic wasn't able to maintain that impressive first half - his shooting numbers dropped significantly post-All-Star - but he suffered a couple of injuries and the Mavericks blew up their roster at the trade deadline to acquire All-Star big man Kristaps Porzingis, who sat out the entire season as he continues to recover from tearing his ACL.

With less talent around him, plus the wear and tear of being the No. 1 option as a rookie, it's no surprise Doncic took a little bit of a step back.

Doncic did, however, continue to make an impact by stuffing the stat sheet to the tune of 9.9 rebounds and 7.2 assists per game over his final 17 games. He ended the season with eight triple-doubles, the third-most all-time by a rookie.

Ultimately, Doncic was the best rookie from start to finish this season.

2. Trae Young, PG, Atlanta Hawks (37 points)

Season stats: 19.1 points, 8.1 assists, 3.7 rebounds and 0.9 steals per game

Young made the Rookie of the Year conversation interesting with his play in the second half the season. He played like an All-Star following the All-Star break, posting 24.7 points, 9.2 assists and 4.7 rebounds per game.

The Hawks were surprisingly competitive during that period, winning 10 of their final 23 games of the season.

Young put his full potential on display in those games. He knocked down several clutch shots and put up a number of eye-popping stat lines, including his historic 49-point outburst against the Chicago Bulls and his monster 33-point, 12-assist double-double against the Philadelphia 76ers.

Had Young played at that level for the entire season, he would've had a strong case to finish No. 1 ahead of Doncic, but he struggled for a large portion of the season. In the first 25 games of his career, Young averaged 15.7 points on 37.7 percent shooting from the field and 23.9 percent from 3-point range.

Doncic, for comparison, averaged 23.1 points on 42.3 percent shooting from the field and 28.2 percent from 3-point range in his final 25 games.

Even if you think Young's highs were slightly higher than Doncic's, his lows were lower.

3. Deandre Ayton, C, Phoenix Suns (20 points)

Season stats: 16.3 points, 10.3 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 0.9 blocks per game

While Ayton didn't play at the same level as Doncic and Young this season, he still had a promising rookie campaign.

Put it this way: Ayton is one of three rookies to average 15 points and 10 rebounds while shooting at least 55 percent from the field since 1946-47, per Basketball-Reference. The other two? Shaquille O'Neal and Buck Williams.

Even though both O'Neal and Williams played on far more competitive teams as rookies, there's something to be said for Ayton being as productive and efficient as he was out of the gates. He wasted no time establishing himself as a walking double-double, as well as a versatile offensive player who can attack the offensive glass, create his own shot in the post, finish in the pick-and-roll and space the floor a little as a shooter.

The problem is opponents scored at ease when he was defending the rim and the Suns finished the season with the second-worst defensive rating in the league, a big reason why they finished the season with only 19 wins.

Ayton at least improved on that end of the court as the season progressed, especially when it came to guarding ball handler on switches. If he continues to trend in that direction and add to his already polished offensive game, he has an incredibly bright future in the NBA.

4. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, PG, LA Clippers (11 points)

Season stats: 10.8 points, 3.3 assists, 2.8 rebounds and 1.2 steals per game

Gilgeous-Alexander has the distinction of being the only player on this list who will be in uniform this weekend when the playoffs begin.

The Canadian started in 73 games for the Clippers during the regular season, averaging 26.5 minutes per contest. He didn't put up the same numbers as other rookies did in those minutes, and yet he made a positive impact on both ends of the court for a team few thought would make the playoffs while scoring efficiently (47.6% FG) and taking care of the ball (1.7 turnovers per game).

As his teammate Patrick Beverley recently tweeted, that should count for something:

Gilgeous-Alexander had some notable performances throughout the season, too, such as when he scored 22 points in only 27 minutes against the Cleveland Cavaliers, scored a career-high 24 points against the Golden State Warriors, dished out 10 assists against the Brooklyn Nets and blocked four shots against the Charlotte Hornets.

Gilgeous-Alexander might not have the star potential of Doncic, Young and Ayton, but he's already proven to be a starting-calibre point guard on a winning team. Considering he's only 20-years-old, that's incredibly impressive.

5. Collin Sexton, PG, Cleveland Cavaliers (10 points)

Season stats: 16.7 points, 3.0 assists, 2.9 rebounds and 0.5 steals per game

Sexton deserves a lot of credit for how much he improved this season. Whereas he was barely averaging double figures in his first 10 games with the Cavaliers, he turned himself into a consistent 20-point per game scorer down the final stretch of the regular season.

Sexton finished with a total of 27 20-point games, putting him third behind Doncic (43) and Young (37) for the most in this draft class.

"The second half was pretty much better than the first half," Sexton told the media after the Cleveland's season finale. "The first half, I felt like just trying to get used to the game style and everything and just know that coming in you don't know, pretty much, what to expect."

"So once you play enough games and get enough reps up, you start figuring it out, what you can and can't do."

The next step for Sexton is to become a more well-rounded player. He averaged only 3.0 assists per game on the season, which, given his usage rate and role, was incredibly low. He also ranked second-to-last in the ESPN's Defensive Real Plus-Minus - a metric that estimates a player's impact on their team's defensive performance - ahead of only Young.

Young puts more pressure on team's with his shooting and passing, so that's far more of a knock on Sexton than it is on Young.

Other votes

Marvin Bagley III, F/C, Sacramento Kings (6 points) - 14.9 points, 7.6 rebounds, 1.0 assists and 1.0 blocks per game

Jaren Jackson Jr., F/C, Memphis Grizzlies (6 points) - 13.8 points, 4.7 rebounds, 1.4 blocks and 1.1 assists per game

Mitchell Robinson, C, New York Knicks (1 point) - 7.3 points, 6.4 rebounds, 2.4 blocks and 0.8 steals per game

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA or its clubs.

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