Heading into Las Vegas Summer League in early July, Atlanta Hawks rookie Trae Young was coming off of the back of some very tough performances in Utah that led to criticism of the Hawks’ selection of Young (not helped, of course, by the decision to trade down from the third overall pick and Luka Doncic to the fifth overall pick) and the play of Young himself.
The main item that drew the ire of many fans was Young’s shooting struggles, with Young shooting just 23% from the field.
Patience was preached often in Utah when it came to Young.
“...He’s going to make shots,” Hawks head coach Lloyd Pierce stressed in Utah. “We’re going to be fine.”
“He’s a big name. He’s a top guy,” said teammate Tyler Dorsey of Young. “They are going to come at him. He just needs to play his game. No need to panic.”
Young himself has also preached the waiting game.
“...I’m excited that we’re getting to looks that we’re getting, we’re just not knocking down shots right now,” said Young after a loss against the San Antonio Spurs in Utah. “Eventually it’ll come, and when it does it’ll come fast.”
“I’m getting shots I usually hit but it’s just my second game playing five-on-five since college,” said Young. “I’ve got to get it going again. It’s going to come.”
And come it did, as Young fared a lot better in Las Vegas Summer League than he did in Utah as he averaged 17 points per game on 38% shooting from the field — 38% still isn’t ideal but that really doesn’t tell the full story of Young’s reverseal of fortunes when it comes to his shot in Las Vegas.
But, of course, there’s a lot more to Young than just his shooting (contrary to popular belief), and all of his talents were on display in Las Vegas. And we’re going to look at those today: what did Trae Young bring to the table in Las Vegas Summer League?
(As per usual with myself and SL film, these are timestamped, just click on the video and you’ll be taken to what I want to show you)
I mean, we may as well start here...
Young did eventually find his shot — as he knew it would — but continued to let it fly from insanely deep ranges, the difference is that it finally began to go down.
Against the Knicks, Young comes off of a John Collins screen and takes a deep three-pointer which goes down:
Same game, Young receives the ball from Omari Spellman and pulls up into a ridiculous three-pointer:
Against the Chicago Bulls, Young has the choice of what side he chooses to come off of a screen, comes off of Alpha Kaba’s screen and Young hits the deep three:
Same game, Young receives the hand-off from Jock Landale, the defense is too slow to react and Young pulls the trigger and hits the deep three:
And to cap off his seven three-pointer performance, Young hit this deep three in the face of Ryan Arcidiacono:
Though Young started to finally hit these deep threes, he did still miss a number of these long attempts — a bit of ‘give and take’ is required when it comes to these.
Young not only took/hit deep threes but, frequently, contested threes.
Here, Young gets himself switched onto a longer defender on the perimeter but still elects to pull the trigger and he hits the three:
Faced with Arcidiacono in his grill, Young is unfazed as he cans the three in Arcidiacono’s face:
Heading down the floor against the Indiana Pacers, Young displays his handle before stepping back on Aaron Holiday and hits the contested three:
As you can see, quite a number of shots Young attempted were tough shots — sometimes bad shots, regardless whether they went in or not...and there were often times when those tough shots didn’t go in, drawing criticism.
Here, Young comes off of a switch and tries to shoot over the defender on the switch but is well contested and the shot is off-line:
Heading up the floor, Young leads the way and springs into a contested 30-footer which misses:
With plenty of time remaining on the shot clock, Young elects to fire away on the wing, despite facing pressure from close within:
Again, Young doesn’t do himself many favors on this possession as he elects to launch from the outside despite working with suboptimal space, and the shot misses badly in the end:
Coming off of a screen and onto a switch, Young is quick to pull the trigger but is contested well and the shot is missed as a result:
Here, Young sizes up Holiday and tries to shoot over him, only for his efforts to be blocked:
I think you get the general idea... Again, like I said, Young is going to hit some of these shots and they’ll look great (hitting a jumper in the face of a defender always looks good) and he’s going to miss some of these shots and they’ll look bad — give and take is required...
An area of the floor that Trae Young has struggled from is finishing at the rim. This isn’t an unfamiliar tale with Young, having struggled massively in college in that area but is worth noting that it has reared its head again in Las Vegas.
Young has gotten stronger since the college season ended but his lack of size and length still limit him at the rim — he just couldn’t get a lot to fall around the rim.
After a Chicago turnover, Young comes the other way and turbos to the rim but his layup — amidst contact — is too hard and Young ends up on the floor and the shot is missed:
Off of a miss, the Hawks look to quickly turn things around and Young spearheads a counter-attack. He picks the gap and drives between the defenders, gets to the rim but can’t finish the play:
On the drive from the wing, Young gets inside but can’t lift the layup over the defense and leaves it short:
Though Young struggled at times at the rim, one aspect of his game near the rim that did look good was his floater, which Young went to often in his final Summer League game against the Pacers.
Here, Young rejects the Spellman screen, paces inside, does a good job to fend off Holiday as he drives (using his arm) and as the help defense comes near the rim Young floats the ball over and in:
One of the things that is maligned when it comes to Young is his movement off of the ball, but here Young moves off-ball, comes off of a John Collins screen, curls, gets the hand-off from Spellman, is able to turn corner — the opposing big in the pick-and-roll doesn’t do enough to halt Young’s progress— and Young again goes to his floater, scoring:
Off of a hedged pick-and-roll, he drives, fends off Holiday, sees the opening to hoist a floater and successfully converts:
Young’s floater in college was fairly decent, so it was good to see that it saw some success in Vegas — if it is something that translates in the NBA from day one, that would be ideal.
At times, Young had issues breaking down his opponents off of the dribble and forced to look elsewhere.
Here was a play where he was unable to break down New York’s Frank Ntilikina — a long defender who Young will face multiple times a season — off of the dribble:
Young took a lot of tough shots in Vegas and had instances like these where — faced with length and size — he struggled, so naturally the conversation about ‘creating separation’ arose.
Hawks Summer League coach Chris Jent wasn’t too concerned about it all.
“He’s being defended by some very good defenders,” said Jent. “Frank’s a very good defender, so that doesn’t help you, but we have to help him. We have guys who need to screen him and get that separation for him. In the NBA you have to have some space. If you don’t have space it’s tough to operate.”
Neither was Young himself.
“I’ve gotten a lot of open looks,” said Young when asked about separation. “Separation hasn’t been the problem, it’s been knocking down the shot. Like I said, this is only my fourth 5-on-5 game (since the college season ended) ... now that I’m getting more into a rhythm, more under my feet, I’m just trying to get better each and every game...”
Against longer, taller and more athletic players, Young will struggle out of the gate and could find his openings limited. But as he grows with the game and plays with teammates — like Kent Bazemore, like Dewayne Dedmon and John Collins, as well as shooters like Kevin Huerter and Taurean Prince — these opening should present themselves, and Young has the opportunity to flourish.
By far the most impressive and consistent aspect of Young’s game was his ability to get his teammates involved and make them better, something the Hawks haven’t had as much with, now former point guard, Dennis Schröder who has been a score first-pass second point guard for the past few seasons.
We won’t go through every assist (would take too long) but there’s still plenty to look at.
The big takeaway was Young’s quick establishment of chemistry with John Collins, which is very important going forward since Young and Collins are set to be very key members for the Hawks this season.
Collins has obviously been working on his three-point shot and this opens up many opportunities for not only Collins but for Young too to set up plays.
Here, Collins trails the play as his man sags beyond the three-point line and it’s a very simple play for Young to make to find the open Collins, who hits the three:
Against the Portland Trail Blazers, Young receives the attention of the defense and a miscommunication leads to Collins being left all alone. Young duly finds his teammate for three:
Off of a hand-off from Collins, Young drives to his right and uses a Landale screen. The Knicks prevent Young turning the corner and a switch takes place on Collins. With the defense focused on Young and the rolling Landale, Collins is left all alone and Young whizzes the ball over his head to find Collins for three:
I hope the Hawks run a similar action in the regular season, and with how the roster is constituted the personnel involved in this kind of play are interchangeable — instead of Collins hanging back for three, it could be Dewayne Dedmon and Collins can roll instead. Or if you want play small, have Collins set the screen and roll and Taurean Prince at the four can hang on the perimeter. Mike Muscala would’ve also been nice to have in this situation but alas...
Again, a similar type of play takes place — replace Landale with Spellman this time — where a pick-and-roll occurs, the opposing big marshals Young while Young’s defender recovers, Spellman then rolls, dragging Collins’ man away from him leaving Collins open for three on the find from Young:
“With John being able to shoot the ball and also get to the rim, it makes my job a lot easier,” said Young of Collins in Las Vegas.
This time in the pick-and-roll with Collins, Young does a great job drawing the defense to him while keeping his dribble on a string before lofting the ball over to Collins for the dunk:
“It was sort of a feeling,” said Collins of that last play. “I saw him pull up and look away and I already knew the pass was coming, and that’s part of the chemistry we’re trying to build...”
They didn’t get to share the court for too long (with Collins only featuring in two Summer League games in Las Vegas before being shut down) but what was shown between the two was promising and bodes well for what could be a long season ahead.
As for getting other players not named John Collins involved...there was plenty of that too.
A lot of opportunities made by Young were created off of drives — whether it was off of a screen or off of Young’s own penetration.
Against the Pacers, Young probes inside rather than drives, is cut off from the rim and finds the Landale for the three-pointer:
On this possession, Young puts his defender on skates with a sweet dribbling clinic before driving by him, attracting the help defense and finding Alpha Kaba, who has to adjust before scoring at the rim:
Young helped spearhead an impressive comeback against the Pacers and his playmaking in the fourth quarter played a big part in getting the Hawks over the line. On the drive, Young collapses the defense and fires the ball to the corner to Tyler Dorsey, who knocks down the three:
In transition, Young receives the ball just behind the three-point line. He could hoist up a three-pointer but takes it all in his stride and flows inside, breaking down the defense and finds Landale for the easy bucket:
Again in transition, Young receives the ball in a similar fashion (on the move, just behind the three-point line), gets by his defender on the perimeter and kicks the ball to Jaylen Morris in the corner for the three-pointer:
On the drive by Young, the defense is broken down and Young is able to find the open Spellman, who skies above the rim to slam it home:
Coming off of a Kaba screen, Young gets to the rim as he draws the defense and finds Kaba for the basket:
So, as you can see, a lot of instances where this went right but there were also occasions where it went wrong...
Let’s move on from penetration playmaking and move onto some general assists — in different areas.
Young continued to display his basketball IQ as he showed his awareness of his teammates’ positions and surroundings...
Here, Young sees the play before it happens and acts instantaneously, firing it inside for the assist:
In transition, Young realizes he’s going to be contested at the rim, so instead of taking the risk of being blocked, he calculates his pass as he drops the ball to a teammate behind, who finishes the play:
Just as he did in college, Young whipped out a pass from within his own half that leads to an assist:
In transition, Young successfully connects with Antonius Cleveland for the alley-oop:
The fact that Young had as much success as he did in terms of playmaking was critical — it showed that even in the midst of a shooting slump that Young could still make a positive impact on the game.
“That’s the main thing”, said Young postgame after the Hawks’ opening game of Summer League in Utah against the Memphis Grizzlies. “When my shot’s not falling I got to do other things...”
Lloyd Pierce also highlighted the importance of Young’s playmaking after that game.
“That’s his strength,” said Pierce of Young’s playmaking. “That’s going to be his blueprint...”
And even as Young’s struggles in Utah continued, Pierce is simply looking at Young to make the right plays.
“The shots aren’t falling but I wouldn’t say he’s necessarily struggling,” said Pierce of Young in Utah. “We charted a lot of things. We are looking at how he is facilitating and getting other guys involved. For me, the biggest thing is: is he making the right plays? There were a ton of possessions last night where he made the right plays. There were ton of possessions tonight where he made the right plays. Shots aren’t falling. We are not going to look at the stat sheet and say he played good or bad. It’s a matter of is he playing the right way, is he doing what we are looking for and is he facilitating and getting his teammates involved? That’s the key component for him.”
Now that Summer League has wrapped up, the Hawks and Young have lots of film to watch, discuss and learn from over the summer, something Pierce eluded to in Utah.
“I think for us it’s ‘what can we get on film?’” said Pierce in Utah. “Last night they were pressuring him full-court, and it’s just ‘How do you create leads? How do you get yourself open? How do you use your teammates and slow the game down so you can use screens?’ Tonight it was similar, ‘How do you play in the half court and get our team organized and structured, and when the shots aren’t falling can we continue to put pressure at the rim?’ We want to be able to get it on film (so) we can educate him and we can watch it and we can learn from it. That’s the biggest (thing) we’re getting out of it right now.”
In a league where college offense success doesn’t always translate, basketball IQ, court vision and playmaking usually do (at least quicker than offense/shooting) and this will be Young’s bread-and-butter while he adjusts to the NBA’s speed and physicality.
Overall, it was a bit of a bumpy Summer League for Trae Young but I think a corner was turned in Las Vegas and the doubts some had held over him were relieved slightly as the games racked up — it definitely ended better than it started, which is always a good thing (and saw him named to the All-Summer League 2nd team)
Fans can be encouraged that Young’s play and can be further encouraged that he will now have the green light heading into this season — whether he starts in place of the now departed Dennis Schroder or comes off the bench to lead the second unit behind Jeremy Lin.
The Trae Young era officially has the green light.