First Year Focus: Trae Young
This column will examine one standout rookie performer each week, whether it be a contender for Rookie of the Year or a first year player maximizing their limited minutes and proving to be worthy of a greater role. Apologies in advance, but Ben Simmons will not be featu red.
Trae Young was already a polarizing prospect when he entered the draft, but became even more so after the decision by Atlanta to trade down with the Mavericks, exchanging Young and a 2019 first rounder for European phenom Luka Doncic. By securing a player with such a low ceiling and high floor to lead their rebuilding efforts, and spurning a guy with a sterling professional resume already, the Hawks made a bold move in setting the future course of their franchise that could legitimately define the careers of the general managers and executives involved.
The spotlight had already been focused on Trae Young since he started hitting Curry-esque threes and dropping dimes like a clumsy cashier last year at Oklahoma, and even on the moribund Hawks it’s going to remain bright.The Doncic trade all but assured greater pressure on Young. His style of play, featuring pull up, contested threes and trying to pull off nearly impossible passes, will only make him even more prone to the swings in performance that generally affects rookies, which will certainly cause some aggressive overreactions either validating or dismissing Young on small sample sizes.
In his first few games, Young has predictably already had highly varying highs and lows for Atlanta. As expected, his success has been predicated largely on his perimeter shooting and passing. Young has been free to let it fly for the young Hawks, chucking up only four less field goal attempts per game than he did in college. His shooting percentages are especially low right now after a 3-12 outing including 0-6 from three against Chicago on Saturday, but Young has still managed to post nearly twenty points a night, highlighting the fact that Atlanta is going to let him shoot away all year.
While his shooting volume has already led to inconsistent shooting numbers, Trae Young’s ability to set up his teammates for scoring opportunities regardless of how he’s scoring will allow him to weather scoring consistency issues and remain productive. Playing with better teammates and a more spaced court should help him come close to replicating the eight assists and 38% three point percentage he posted at Oklahoma, where he was basically the sole focus of every defensive gameplan. Through five games that assist number sits at just under seven per game, with a rough but not terrible three and a half turnovers a game accompanying those assists. The threat of Young’s three point shot and the absurd pace at which the NBA is playing right now will likely keep those assist numbers around seven or eight a night, although it’s doubtful he approaches the rookie record of 10.6 per game, held by a somewhat surprising source.
Luka Doncic outplayed Young individually in their much-anticipated first meeting, but the Hawks came out on top in a rousing comeback partially due to the fourth quarter play of their franchise point guard. Young tallied 12 of his 17 total points in the final quarter, sealing the Hawks rally. He was similarly vital in the Hawks defeating the Cavaliers, putting up a tantalizing 35 point, 11 assist performance with efficient shooting from the field and just one turnover. Young’s 56% shooting from the field and single turnover skewed what has been an inefficient start with regards to scoring consistently and protecting the ball, and Young will face these issues throughout the season. Because Young’s production generally stems from scoring on tough looks and having his teammates convert off his passes, there are bound to be some statistically less impressive showings from Trae, and he’s already had a few clunkers through his first five games .But, if he sprinkles in enough big outings like he did against Cleveland and more clutch fourth quarters similar to his performance against Dallas, Young could be a legitimate rookie of the year contender right next to the guy he was traded for, justifying the Hawks bold trade and legitimizing their young point guard as burgeoning star and not just a Steph Curry imitator with a bad haircut.
All stats via https://www.basketball-reference.com/