Luka Doncic is a 6-foot-7, 218-pound rookie -- one inch taller and 37 pounds heavier than the wiry, 20-year-old guard with a 21-letter last name.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is not attracting the spotlight like his first-year counterpart, but his performance has skyrocketed him near the top of the rookie ladder through the first 20-plus games of the 2018-19 campaign. His team, the Los Angeles Clippers, stand alone at the peak of the Western Conference following a 133-121 victory over the Kings on Thursday night.
Doncic and Gilgeous-Alexander are completely different talents, but the pair’s race for the Rookie of the Year may be neck-and-neck by the time all is said and done.
Gilgeous-Alexander is the starting point guard on arguably the league’s best team this season. Los Angeles is 11-3 in November, and has won 10 of its last 12 contests since the Toronto native joined the starting five on Nov. 5.
When general manager Michael Winger selected Gilgeous-Alexander out of Kentucky with the 11th overall pick in the 2018 NBA draft, the hope was that he could be a backup to Patrick Beverley who would eventually slot into a starting role further down the road.
The opposite has been true, as Gilgeous-Alexander has sped past his timeline for development and already made an impact in the West. LeBron James has spearheaded the Lakers back to playoff contention, but the Clippers have surprisingly remained supreme atop the City of Angels.
What makes Gilgeous-Alexander so good is his diverse skill set on both sides of the ball. On offense, he shoots 46.7 percent from the field and 80.6 percent from the charity stripe, while averaging 3.5 rebounds and 3.1 assists per 28 minutes (21 games). On defense, he swipes one steal and blocks 0.8 shots each contest.
The quickness and athleticism of Gilgeous-Alexander is paying dividends. He can find creases in the defense for a high-percentage shot or dish it off for an easy bucket. He can also explode off the ground for blocks and rebounds at a position that traditionally struggles in those departments.
Gilgeous-Alexander has one win share through 21 games (0.4 on offense, 0.6 on defense), which happens to be the same figure as Doncic through 20 games (0.2 on offense, 0.8 on defense). Gilgeous-Alexander has a higher offensive rating than Doncic (107 to 103), but allows more points per 100 possessions on defense (110 to 108).
Again, the race might be closer than anticipated, especially if Gilgeous-Alexander continues to see an uptick in playing time. In the Clippers’ last four games -- their best stretch thus far -- he has 50 points, 18 rebounds, 17 assists, four blocks and five steals on 44 percent shooting from the field (19 of 43) and, most notably, 50 percent shooting (3 of 6) from 3-point range, a preconceived area of weakness from the NBA Combine.
So, when Doncic and Gilgeous-Alexander square off under the bright lights of the American Airlines Center on Sunday night -- look at both sides of the competition, as two of the game’s best rookies go head-to-head in what may be a crucial, deciding factor on this year’s Rookie of the Year ballot.