Sunday, June 16, 2024

The Curious Case of Trae Young

Bust. Superstar. Just a shooter. I’ve heard it all. The public’s opinion on Trae Young varies plenty. Young’s play throughout the season seems to baffle people, but I’m here to set the record straight.

Trae Young is more than a shooter. So what is he? Simply put, he’s a menace. Young can score in more than one way. The unlimited range from the 3 point line, lightning quick first step, the best floater in the league. He has countless ways to attack you. He is also excellent at getting to the line (8.8 FTA) and shoots at an excellent 86.1 FT% rating. Combine his scoring prowess (27.4 PPG) with his fantastic playmaking ability (8.7 APG), he left teams petrified on how to deal with him…for most of the season, but we’ll get to that later.

Young is one of the smartest players in the league, his ability to see double teams and make decisions quickly made those double teams obsolete. Young never seems to be in a rush, always playing at the right pace. Taking what the defense gives him and making them pay for their weaknesses. As you can see in the video below, Trae Young sees the double team set up in front of him while dribbling. While 99% of players will pass to Kam McGusty on his right, Young drives directly into the double team, freezing the defense. He then makes a tough lefty pass to Brady Manek for a wide open 3 pointer, who knocks it down.

Trae Young went on to drop 26 points and 22 assists in that game. Those 22 assists tied the single-game record for most in a game in NCAA history. His 20-20 game was the first in two decades.

Here you can see another example what Young can do against a double team. He sees the double team coming, and before the defense can set up, he splits it and gets into the lane for a wide open floater.

Young absolutely changed the dynamic of defenses and strips their identity. Teams know if they try and employ a zone against Young, he is too smart and can shoot to well, he will shred any defense he plays. The Baylor Bears, a big 12 rival, played zone defense on about 85% of their plays, making them one better defenses in the league. Trae Young comes into town, forcing Baylor to play a man defense from the very beginning. The Bears were forced to change their game plan because of Young. It didn’t work, Young dropped 44 points on 11-20 FG.

Some people peg Young as selfish, but that’s simply not true. He led the league in assists per game, and watching the game tape it is quickly apparent that he is the best passer in the league. Young will always hit his teammates in stride, never missing an open teammate.

While there is some truth that he takes too many shots, watching an Oklahoma Sooners game will quickly show you why he needs to take those shots. To be brutally honest, the Sooners roster is awful. I truly believe the Sooners would not even win 10 games without Young. He isn’t the focal point of the offense, he is the sole proprietor of their offense. The Sooners were made up of a bunch of catch and shoot players who frankly aren’t even good at that.

This is Rashard Odomes, the Sooners 2nd “best” ball handler. I have repeatedly seen Odoms make plays exactly like this. When he has the ball in his hands, he either loses the ball or misses open jump shots, much like the rest of OU.

There is so many plays where Young would hit a wide open teammate for a jump shot or wide open layup, and they flat out miss. The type of play that makes you want to shake your head in disgust. At the next level, the shooters in the NBA will not miss these shots. In the video below you can see Young make a great pass to wide open shooter Christian James for a corner 3, a shot NBA players will not miss. James almost inevitably misses the jump shot, a theme too common for the Sooners.

Young was forced to dribble out almost every possession, creating offense by himself with no help in sight. Look no further than his 37.4 usage rate to show how reliant the Sooners were on Young’s scoring/passing. That 37.4 ranks 2nd in the NCAA. This is higher than uber ball dominant players James Harden (36.1), Russell Westbrook (33.2), and LeBron James (31.6).

Assist percentage is a tool used to estimate the percentage of teammate field goals a player assisted while he was on the floor. Trae Young blew everyone out of the water with his 48.6%, almost 5% higher than the next highest player in the league. This is once again higher than James Harden (44.9%), Russell Westbrook (46.4%), and LeBron James (43.2%).

Trae Young multi-tool threat

Trae Young
Sooners star Trae Young

Trae Young did not just carry his team, he carried them to the 5th best offense in the league at 84.9 PPG. Keep in mind that Oklahoma also had an atrocious defense, which did not help the Sooners win/loss record. They gave up the 337th most points in the league. This all while playing in the Big 12, the toughest conference in the league, where every team was march madness caliber.

For the first 13 games, Trae Young and Oklahoma took the league by storm. The Sooners, unranked and unheard of, climbed to as high as #4 in the AP Poll. All things were bright, Oklahoma was on a 10 game win streak, and nobody knew how to stop the phenomenon which was #traemania.

Everything changed on January 6th when Young & The Sooners headed into Morgantown, WV to face Bob Huggins’ West (Press) Virginia Mountaineers. This was touted to be one of the best matchups of the year, offensive superstar Trae Young going up against lockdown defender Jevon Carter (3.0 SPG).

The result? WVU takes the game easily and stuns america with a 89-76 victory over the Sooners and Trae Young has his worst game of the season with 29 points. Wait what? Yes that’s right, worst game. Young did not just face the hounding defense of Carter, but the whole Press Virginia defense, who double, triple team their opponents 94 feet from the basket. Young struggled shooting 8-22 FG, 3-12 3PT, and only 5 assists to his 8 turnovers. To be frank, 76 points is actually a solid mark in college, most nights you can win with 76 points, but the Sooners swiss cheese like defense did not help the case.

For the first time, a team had finally figured out how to defend Trae Young. And for the rest of the season teams continued to hound and harass Young. When/if Young would hit the ball to his teammates they simply turned the ball over or missed open shots. The sooners went into a severe slump from their onward, from being the #4 seed to unranked all while holding a 6-12 record after January 5th. Their season closed with a 83-78 (OT) loss to Rhode Island in the first round of March Madness, where Young put his best foot forward, 28 points on 9-18 FG, and Oklahoma still couldn’t produce the victory.

To begin the season, teams covered Young like this.

By the end, it was more like this.

November 28.8 49.0 41.8 8.8 3.5
December 30.3 46.2 40.9 11.0 4.7
January 31.2 42.6 40.4 8.0 6.9
February 21.8 36.1 24.7 6.7 6.3
March 21.7 36.2 29.0 6.0 4.0

You can see just how much Young struggled toward of the season, essentially limping to the finish line. Although putting up a large PPG (21.0+), he struggled mightily with efficiency and all other facets of his game. It is mentally straining what Young went through, teams throwing 2-3 defenders at him each play, while knowing his team can score 90 points and still easily lose. It was simply too much for any player.

Trae Young’s season is best described as up and down. After a torrid start, he continued to put up big numbers all year, but struggled with efficiency as teams started figuring him out. In a 83-81 (OT) upset loss to Oklahoma state Young put up a career 48 points, but on 14-39 FG. The very next game in a 85-80 win vs #5 Kansas, Young put up a stellar 26 points 7-9 FG, excellent efficiency.

To me it’s clear, Trae Young is very smart. He learns from his mistakes, knows what plays to make and is an excellent decision maker. The inefficiency does not concern me as in the NBA, teams will not be able to double Young as they have in college, if they do they will pay the price. The 5.2 TOV is a bit concerning to me, there have been some times where Young has tried to force the ball and as a result, resulted in a bad turnover. However, most of his turnovers came by the harassing nature of the defenses he faced, he will not see this is in the NBA. This season was good for Young’s development, it showed him his strengths, weaknesses, and will allow him to grow and become better.

Much has been made of Young’s size at 6’ 2” 180 lbs. While it is valid that he is not of the ideal size, this does not concern me very much. When talking about the small size of point guards, you are generally worried about the physicality of the NBA and the bigger defenders “roughing” smaller guards up. No defender has been able to play young physically, hurt his productivity. The only way teams can slow down (not stop) Young is by throwing multiple defenders at him, something teams will not be able to do anymore.

Many people have Young going #6 to the Orlando Magic. I know what you’re thinking. Magic, they’re terrible, but take a look at their starting lineup. If you try and double Trae Young he will hit fantastic scorers such as Evan Fournier (17.8 PPG), Aaron Gordon (17.6 PPG), and Nikola Vucevic (16.5 PPG). Just about every other team in the lottery is going to have a solid supporting cast with capable shooters.

The other caveat is Trae Young’s defense. I’m not going to sit here and tell you his defense is good. However, I’ve seen this before with players who took on a huge role on offense, namely Russell Westbrook, LeBron James. It is hard to put in any effort on defense with such a large workload. To be clear, I am not claiming his defense would be good if he tried, but I believe he can be a better defender then he was in Oklahoma.  I do not think Young will ever become a lockdown defender, mostly because of his size. He did however average 1.7 SPG, so there is some hope he can at least develop into a solid defender as at the next level.

Trae Young is one of the most interesting cases of the 2018 draft. There have been a plethora of “amazing college players,” who do not translate into the NBA. I see no reason Young’s game will not transform into stardom. Young is extremely humble, he came into the season not expecting to be a one and done player, but his production speaks for itself. He is an extremely hard worker, who has tirelessly worked to become who he is.

Everyone has heard the Steph Curry comparisons. Keep in mind that Curry was not Curry when he came out of college. Three years at Davidson is what it took Curry to become NBA material. Which is what makes it even more crazy. The NBA comparisons to Curry are of the 2018 Curry, not Curry at Davidson. There are quite a lot of similarities between the two, the shooting range, passing ability, finishing ability to name a few.

While it remains to be seen if Young can become “the next Curry,” Young is already a dynamic scorer who puts the fear of god into defenses. With his excellent work ethic and dazzling skill set, I see no reason Trae Young cannot become a superstar in the NBA.

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