Trae Young took the Big 12 and the NCAA by storm during his rookie season at the University of Oklahoma. He led the Big 12 and the nation in points per game (27.4), assists per game (8.7), assist percentage (48.6), usage percentage (37.1), points produced (935), points produced per game (29.2), and offensive box plus/minus (11.2). Needless to say, Young makes his impact felt while he’s on the floor by scoring and facilitating. His point guard credentials couldn’t be better. The question is: How will he fare once he gets to the NBA?
Born in Lubbock, Texas in 1998, Young was raised in Norman, Oklahoma. He attended Norman High School but didn’t take up basketball until his sophomore year. His performance that season earned him Oklahoma’s Sophomore of the Year honors. His play only improved from there. By his senior year, Young was averaging 42.6 points on 48.9 percent shooting, 5.8 rebounds, and 4.1 assists per game. It’s no surprise that he was considered one of the top recruits heading into college. He chose to stay in Norman and attend OU where he, as mentioned, put up record numbers.
Young can flat out shoot. Not only can he shoot, he can score from almost anywhere on the floor. He shot 36 percent on threes at OU and beyond connecting at a good clip, Young’s ability to get off a shot quick as well as in tight coverage makes him all the more valuable. It also means that defenders also have to show him reverence wherever he is on the floor, allowing him to stretch the defense. Though not explosive, Young has the ability to get to the rim with the floor spaced.
Within the arc, he has the ability to create for himself off the dribble, looking for a midrange shot or attacking the middle with a floater. Young is also adept working the pick-and-roll, making good decisions and finding teammates. Other than scoring, his ability to hit the open man with a precision pass is his best offensive weapon.
The most glaring—and talked about—weakness of Young’s game is his defense. Statistically, he posted a defensive rating of 108.1 and a defensive box plus/minus of 0.5 in his one season at OU. Beyond that, Young displayed a lack of interest in stopping the ball, often getting beat. When defending off the ball, he’s just as lackadaisical, preferring to watch the action rather than focus on his assignment. Young recently stated at the NBA Draft Combine that his focus and effort level will not be a concern once he reaches the NBA. However, his defense isn’t the only thing worrisome about Young.
While frequently being listed as 6’2”, Young posted a standing height of 6’0.5” without shoes. In shoes, he grows to just 6’1.75”. This doesn’t bode well for him in a league that more and more is relying on switching everything on defense. Young’s height creates a liability in that he can really only match up well against other point guards. His short wingspan, 6’3”, also doesn’t bode well for him developing into a nagging defensive presence. To top matters off, he weighed in at the combine at a slight 177 pounds.
Beyond his defense and physical size, Young’s offensive prowess can get the better of him as well. This may seem counterintuitive given his proclivity to shoot a high percentage. However, his offensive acumen isn’t what it needs to be. At least not yet. In college, Young hoisted long, early in the shot clock attempts with little regard for looking to find a better option from time to time. It’s the kind of play that makes youth basketball coaches curse Stephen Curry’s name.
Fit with the Mavericks
It’s hard to see Dallas selecting Young with the fifth pick in the draft. That’s not to say that the team doesn’t need more ball handlers. They do and that was a major talking point for head coach Rick Carlisle for much of the 2017-18 season. However, they don’t necessarily need another point guard. If drafted by the Mavs, Young would almost certainly start alongside Dennis Smith, Jr., who Dallas drafted ninth last summer. While potentially explosive offensively, the diminutive duo would leave a lot to be desired defensively.
If their intention is to draft Young and have him quarterback the second unit off the bench, where does that leave J.J. Barea? While Barea is no spring chicken, he’s coming off of the best statistical season of his career. Further, he’s a favorite of Carlisle, which makes his role in the rotation all the more solidified. Also coming off the bench is Yogi Ferrell. Ferrell, however, is a free agent this summer who could be on the move if Young gets drafted. At this point, though, that seems like a stretch.
There’s no question that Young’s talent fills a role in Dallas. The team needs more ball handling, outside shooting threats. However, drafting Young—despite Carlisle penchant for two point guard lineups—could hamper the development of either Smith or Young depending on how they were paired on the court. For now, it looks like Smith is the Mavericks’ point guard of the future and this draft won’t change that.
Young, himself, says his game is influenced by the likes of Steve Nash and Steph Curry. It’s not surprising that he looks to model some of his game after Curry’s given that he’s a former two-time NBA MVP and the fact that all point guards under 21-years-old have come of age watching him play. Yet, entering the league having been influenced by two of the greatest point guards of the past 20 years and drawing comparisons to them is very different.
Between Nash and Curry there are four MVPs. Curry also has a championship under his belt. Setting the bar this high for Young might be problematic. It’s hard for any player to come into the NBA and live up that level of hype. Still, though, if his numbers from college translate well, he may yet attain some degree of play that Nash and Curry displayed during their extended runs of dominance. It likely just won’t come during Young’s rookie season.
With two future Hall of Famers as the zenith, Young’s floor becomes much more grounded. Regardless of how his career pans out, if it falls somewhere between the likes of a Barea or a Mo Williams and Damian Lillard then he’s in good company. Hopefully for Young, he lands on a team that will make the most of his talents.