Draft night, June 21, 2018 — a night of great division, not only among Hawks fans but NBA fans in general.
After securing the No. 3 overall pick in the 2018 draft lottery, moving up to that spot having lost the coin-flip with the Dallas Mavericks, finishing with an equal record of 24-58 — and with everything that Hawks GM Travis Schlenk has done so far building up to draft night 2018 — the Hawks selected Luka Doncic with that third overall pick before trading the rights to Doncic to the Dallas Mavericks for the No. 5 overall pick and a future first round pick, with the Mavericks taking Oklahoma star Trae Young with that No. 5 pick for the Hawks.
The trade (and entire draft) obviously split a lot of opinion between Hawks fans. Many — myself included — did not like the trade (at all) and were incredulous that, after a season dedicated to this very night, Travis Schlenk would pass on Luka Doncic, who was widely considered to be best player of the 2018 class.
But, alas, what’s done is done, and nothing anyone may say or do can change the fact that Luka Doncic is a Maverick and Trae Young is a member of the Atlanta Hawks.
While Young may not have been the player everyone wanted, the fact remains that the Hawks still have a very solid prospect in Trae Young — his ceiling is very high, and it shouldn’t surprise anyone if he goes on to be one of the better players to emerge from this draft class.
Young was one of the most discussed prospects of the entire class thanks to his heroic scoring exploits for the Oklahoma Sooners as he led the nation in scoring and assists, smashing Oklahoma and NCAA freshman records a long the way.
And because he flew up draft boards all season, most already know what his game details, but we’re going to go over it anyways.
So, let’s ask the question...what exactly do the Hawks have in Trae Young? What was it about him that Travis Schlenk felt comfortable as to trade away the right to Doncic (besides the future first round pick incoming from Dallas)?
(Disclaimer: I’m not claiming to be an expert when it comes to Young. Plenty of you reading will know a lot more than what I do when it comes to Young, this is just what I’ve found in what I’ve seen of him...)
It goes without saying that Young is a very talented offensive player. He led the nation in scoring with 27 points per game on 42% shooting from the field and 36% from behind the arc whilst getting to the free throw line over eight times a game.
Obviously, the first thing that comes to mind when it comes to Young is his ability to shoot the ball — igniting many a defense in his one year with Oklahoma with sensational shooting nights, and drew massive attention as a result.
“When you look at how his college season played out, he’s a guy people gravitated towards,” said Hawks GM Travis Schlenk about Young.
“As far as (Young’s) shooting, as I’ve mentioned from day one when I got here, we’re looking for skilled players,” Schlenk said on draft night. “When you look at the league today, you need guys out on the floor that can shoot, that can dribble, that can pass. All three of these guys (Young, Kevin Heurter and Omari Spellman) can shoot...”
Young shot 36% from the college three-point line on an average of over 10 attempts per game, and that doesn’t seem hugely impressive but having watched a few games it became clear that Oklahoma had Trae Young on offense and...literally no one else who could score, really. Oklahoma’s offense fell entirely on Young’s shoulders — if he struggled from the field, Oklahoma struggled to score.
But more often than not, Young rose to the occasion and displayed his shooting talents on a consistent basis, enjoying huge scoring outbursts at times.
Young displayed that he does indeed have NBA range. In fact, it felt like Young took more NBA threes than college threes — nearly every three that I saw him take seemed like it was three or four feet behind the college three.
It’s safe to say that if you sag off of Young, you have to be ready to live with the consequences — if he has the space, he will pull the trigger and will make you play for even hesitating, as he does here against Oklahoma State:
Again, give him the space — in any scenario — and that ball is going up there:
Young can be lethal coming off screens as these can provide him the bit of space he requires for his lights to shift from amber to green from behind the arc, hitting the deep three here coming off of a pick:
Coming off of a screen, Young quickly gets to his spot and hits the three-pointer (a bit closer this time than normal):
Not exactly coming off of a screen, but Young gets the separation he needs after the defender falls over and Young then gets a hand-off from his teammate and cans the three as the defense scrambles to recover:
Young is also able to put himself in position to launch a three-pointer by using a combination of his pace and his crossover/handle.
Here, a quick, effortless right-to-left move puts Young in a position to pull the trigger from outside but is unable to hit on this occasion:
On this possession, Young whips out the crossover and sheds his defender, freeing up Young for the three-pointer that he drains:
As Young heads up the floor, he leads the defense in one direction before quickly changing to another and rising into a three, which misses on this occasion:
But the three-pointer that Young seems to favor by far is the pull-up/off-the-dribble three.
Here, Young comes from inbounding the ball on the baseline to the three-point line where he receives the ball and launches a deep three which goes down:
Here, Young comes off of the hand-off and rises into a deep, contested three-pointer:
Against Texas, Young again off of the dribble rises into a three-pointer:
On this possession, Young pulls up from deep with a defender in close proximity and this time the shot misses:
Young again shows supreme confidence in his abilities as he dribbles way beyond the three-point line before letting it fly with a defender nearby, this time missing the target:
Some of these pull-up/off-the-dribble threes do go but Young is capable of taking some poor shots — such is the risk when you pull-up/shoot off of the dribble from a, usually, deep range when you’re the only player on the team capable of truly punishing the opposition as Young did and was with Oklahoma.
As Young heads up the court, he steps into a poor, deep contested three-point which falls short:
In a tight spot facing defensive pressure, Young tosses up a three that misses everything:
Here, Young takes the ball up the floor and takes a straightaway shot without involving anyone else on his team:
This possession featured a very strange shot where Young tracks back out behind the three-point line and launches a contested three-pointer with plenty of time left on the clock:
So, Young’s shot selection can be up and down but I do think part of that was due to his situation at Oklahoma where he was literally the only competent offensive player, sporting an astronomical usage rate of 37% — leading the entire nation.
Let’s move away from Young’s shooting now and move onto an aspect of his game I personally find very fun — Young’s pace/ability to drive the ball. Young is fast and able to break down defenses with his speed.
One of the things I really enjoy about Young is his ability to shift gears/operate at different speeds.
Here, Young shifts through said gears, gets inside and manages to squeeze his reverse layup home:
Coming off of a screen, Young hesitates — slowing right down but not stopping — before turning on the jets to get all the way to the rim for the score:
Again coming off of a screen, Young hesitates — without stopping — before unleashing a burst of pace to free himself and floats this one home this time:
Heading up the floor, Young operates at one speed before turboing to another and he skips to the rim for the score:
In general, no matter what speed he operates/shifts to, Young is able to do damage in/around the rim — and I say ‘around’ the rim because Young also possesses a decent floater (we’ll see some of those in a second).
From the three-point line, Young works his way — elegantly and beautifully — inside for the score:
Off of the dribble, Young gets by his man, gets to the free throw line, stops, steps through and finishes despite the pressure of Mo Bamba:
In the open court — after a missed dunk for the opposition — Young displays his pace as he squeezes between two defenders to finish at the rim:
Here, Young rejects the screen, drives inside, switches hands and hits the aforementioned floater:
Against Kansas, Young weaves through traffic at speed and finishes the play by hitting the floater:
In what was one of the most impressive plays from Young that I’ve seen, Young skips to the rim and, somehow, finishes in a lot of traffic:
So, generally speaking you can get a decent grasp of Young’s ability to get to the rim and score — even in that Texas game, from which you’ve seen a bunch of clips from, when the outside shot isn’t falling (Young shot 2-of-14 from three that game) Young can get something going in or around the rim.
Let’s move onto Young’s ability to make plays for others — playmaking, facilitation.
Young averaged a nation-best 8.8 assists per game and, perhaps surprisingly given his ability to shoot the ball, it’s this aspect of Young’s game that Travis Schlenk seems most enamoured by.
“...He’s a guy that we really feel like passes the ball better than he shoots the ball,” said Schlenk of Young’s ability to create shots for his teammates. “Obviously his shooting ability is (at a) really high level, but the way he moves the ball, the way he can pass it with both his left and right hand off of the dribble, the way he reads pick-and-rolls very quickly... We’re really excited about adding him the way the game is moving.”
That’s quite a statement in itself from Schlenk. Obviously Young’s ability to shoot the ball is well documented and, for many, it’s his best trait. So, there has to be quite a bit there for Schlenk — a former scout — to come to that conclusion.
Let’s look at it.
As you might be able to piece together, with Young’s ability to put pressure on the rim and score, he’s able to collapse defenses and make plays from there.
On the drive, Young kicks it out to the corner to a teammate who hits the corner three:
Again, Young takes his man off of the dribble, has the beating of him and finds a teammate at the rim for the easy basket:
We’ve seen a bit of Young’s impressive handle to free up some space for himself to shoot but can also use that handle to set up teammates, as he does so here, crossing over before setting up the lob:
Here, Young gets inside, turns down a shot opportunity for himself, shovels the ball to a teammate for the assist:
Young is constantly scanning the floor for opportunities around him, and something he is particularly skilled at is delivering bang-on outlet passes to teammates from within his own half.
Off of a miss, the ball finds its way to Young who delivers the outlet to his teammate for the basket:
Similar situation...off of a miss, Young delivers an exquisite pass from inside his own half to a teammate on the move for the score:
Rinse and repeat:
I mean, I could keep going:
You really do have to be wary of Young in transition — not only because he can turn it on himself but, as you can see, he’s able to find others as the defense jogs back:
Between drives and transition, a good bulk of Young’s facilitation come in those forms.
Not a ton of pick-and-roll playmaking in the few games I saw but certainly enough to suggest that Young should be absolutely fine in that department.
Here, Young drops a nice bounce-pass to the roller for the assist:
Coming out of a pick-and-pop, Young finds a teammate for a three-point look which misses on this occasion:
In the pick-and-roll, Young finds his slipping teammate for the dunk:
That covers a lot of Young’s playmaking but I’ll just drop a few non-related assists that I liked
Here, Young delivers a quick, snappy pass over the defense for the assist at the rim:
On this play, I liked Young’s patience and delivery to find the trailer for a dunk against Texas:
So, you can see that Young is capable of getting his teammates involved often — he has clearly got a knack for making those around him better, which is pretty deadly sounding in addition to his own offense.
Even if you prefer Doncic as a play-maker (I know I certainly do), you can see why Schlenk was enamored with Young with his ability to pass well in addition to his capabilities of shooting the lights out.
With an obvious hype with his shooting, it was pleasing to Young to hear that his passing was something that was coveted as his shooting to the Hawks front office.
“It means a lot (that Young’s passing stood out to Schlenk) because a lot of people focus on my ability to shoot which is a big thing especially in the NBA, but my ability to pass is something I feel is very underrated,” said Young. “I’m just really excited to see that what’s they really like about me.”
But it is important to mention Young’s turnovers at this stage...
Young led the nation in turnovers per game with over five per game and these came in a few different ways.
Some came from Young trying to do too much with the ball himself when it came to his own scoring:
On this possession, Young attempts to weave through traffic, has the ball slapped by the help and loses possession:
Again, Young drives into a closing gap as the help collapses onto him on the perimeter, resulting in another turnover at a critical point in the game:
When it comes to passing...it’s a combination of different things.
Here, Young tries to find a teammate in a pick-and-roll situation but his pass is deflected and it results in a turnover:
Coming off of a drive, Young’s pass is a little too strong to handle underneath and it results in a turnover:
One of Young’s usually bang-on outlet passes is intercepted on this occasion:
You get the idea...he averages five turnovers per game, with many of them coming in playmaking situations.
I’m not overly worried about Young’s turnovers because he will not sport a usage rate of 37% nor will he feature in an average of 87% of possible minutes a game (playing 35 of 40 minutes a game on average, sometimes playing the full 40).
From there, let’s move onto Young’s defense.
I haven’t a ton to say about it because... it’s not great and everyone knows it.
He’s not especially big for his position at 6’2, his frame is slender (though, he has reportedly added 15 pounds of muscle since wrapping up in Oklahoma with the Sooners) and he’s certainly not long (boasting just a 6’3 wingspan).
When asked about those defensive concerns, Travis Schlenk had this to say.
“We had Trae in here for his workout and that’s one of the things we talked to him about and he doesn’t hide from it,” said the general manager. “He said, ‘Listen, I need to do it.’ We watched a lot of film on him going back to his AAU days and he’s capable. He’s actually got good lateral speed, so he’s capable and he doesn’t hide from it.”
I saw those quotes before examining film of Young and I definitely found that to be true: he doesn’t shy away from it.
I found that Young does show some good effort. For instance, I liked how he went up and attacked the defensive glass on this rebound with a much larger opponent in close proximity going for the same ball:
In a game where Oklahoma State tried to post-up Young/put him in compromising positions, Young didn’t back away and contested this particular shot very well:
I found his instincts to be OK at times too, stepping in here to intercept the ball and creates a lob opportunity that doesn’t work out:
Young — and this is one thing I think he does better than Luka Doncic — isn’t afraid to get a hand in there and disrupt things a bit.
Here, Young gets his hands on the ball and knocks it out of bounds:
Again, Young shows flashes of being disruptive as he gets his hands in amongst Mo Bamba to disrupt the play:
On the drive, Young gets his hand in there to procure the ball and, hence, the steal:
Schlenk also mentioned Young’s lateral speed: he does have potential.
Here, Young does well to slide with his man and contests a shot that misses:
(You can kind of see the problem, though... Young did everything right defensively but the offensive player was still basically able to shooter over Young, whose lack of length really hurts him when it comes to contesting shots.)
On a switch (which Young likes to do a lot, mostly I think to avoid trouble with some match-ups), Young again moves well and comes up with the stop and steal:
Here, again, Young moves well and on multiple efforts as he switches on the play too:
I do think another reason why Young switches to avoid screens is because he can get stuck on at times, and from there he just doesn’t have the length to recover from even a partial obstruction between he and his man coming off of the screen:
I’m not showing or saying all of this to tell you Young is a good defender — he’s not a good defender. But I agree with Schlenk when he says he doesn’t shy away — there is at least something to work with with Young defensively.
Firstly, he seems willing; and a willingness to do anything in life sometimes can mean more than having the skill to do it. If Young has a true desire to improve on his defense and works on it, he will improve. He won’t be Chris Paul defensively, but he can still improve nevertheless. Secondly, he has some good physical attributes, his pace, more specifically — that could be one of his saving graces for a hope of even average defense being squeezed out of him.
Of course, there’s no guarantee of that having pace can salvage your defensive game (hello, Dennis Schröder!) but there’s potential to put that pace to good use defensively, to stick with players off of the dribble. Of course, strength and technique play their part from there too and these are also areas Young must improve in. And, thirdly, the Hawks just hired a defensive minded coach in Lloyd Pierce — Young is bound to improve under a defensive tutor like Pierce.
And, ultimately, Young himself knows he has to improve defensively. Even prior to the draft, Young — via Nick Freidell of ESPN — commented that he hopes to “change the narrative” when it comes to his defense.
“...I think just working on body, continuing to work on my speed, just showing from Day 1 that I am going to change the narrative. That’s my goal and my job, to change the narrative on that.”
“I think everybody has things people want to look at,” Young continued. “That’s an area of concern for people. My job is to go out there and prove that it is not.”
“...I know what I have to work on, know what I have to get better at. And I know what I have to show and prove as soon as I get on whatever team I go to. So that’s my main focus, is to focus on what I need to get better at and improving in that way.”
Alright, let’s try land this plane...
While I don’t believe Trae Young was better than Luka Doncic on draft night — and I wouldn’t have made the trade the Hawks ultimately did nor did I like the trade — there’s plenty of reason to believe that Young’s skill-set will translate to the NBA.
He can certainly be a success story and could easily prove to be the best player in this draft class when all said and done. And if that is the case — or even if he was second or third best, still making the All-Star team — the Hawks will have gotten a steal at five while also netting a draft pick.
His Atlanta teammates already have faith in his ability once he adjusts to the NBA and the professional game:
John Collins on Trae Young: "Trae is going to be a star. It’s just a matter of him getting used to the NBA speed and style."— Michael Cunningham (@MCunninghamAJC) June 29, 2018
Offensively, Young may not have a whole lot more than shooting, penetration (layups, floaters) to his scoring but he is very skilled when it comes to those two things — elite. Young’s skill-set offensively and his reputation after blowing up with Oklahoma last year will also help bring a buzz to the newly renovated Philips, always a welcome addition.
Penetration/scoring off of drives might be an issue in his rookie season — not only is the competition obviously faster but it’s also much stronger: does Young have the strength and length to fend off defenders in the paint and at the rim? We shall find out...
As a playmaker, Young is willing — even if he’s not a pass-first guard — but may have a little more trouble creating off of drives in the NBA in his rookie season. He will find it harder to blow by NBA players than he did in the NCAA, and a lot of his looks to teammates came off of drives. I do worry about his ability to make plays in the NBA off of the pick-and-roll, though the good news is that John Collins is a teammate now and, as was the case on a few occasions, you can just toss the ball there or thereabouts and Collins can go grab it.
Defensively, look, we all know the problems — a lack of size and length to begin with. He’s, more than likely, going to struggle defensively, and you’ll just have to take the good with the bad and remember it’s going to be a process defensively with Young. But the good news is that Young sounds willing and he’s got a good defensive coach to help him improve every step along the way — and I do think this counts for a bit.
Overall, the Hawks, and Hawks fans, should be excited for the Trae Young era. In theory, it should be fun and that fun begins in a few days in Utah and then again in Las Vegas.
And Peachtree Hoops will have you covered every step of the way.