I’m always a fan of a team trading down a couple spots in the draft to acquire an extra pick. It worked out pretty well for the Boston Celtics a year ago when they traded the first overall pick (Markelle Fultz) to Philadelphia for the third pick (Jayson Tatum) and what will likely be the Sacramento Kings first round pick in 2019 (protected for No. 1). Atlanta struck a similar deal this summer, moving back to take their guy at five and acquiring a likely 2019 lottery pick in the process.
In the case of Boston, taking Tatum over Fultz seemed questionable last summer and turned out to be a no-brainer. Tatum is well on his way to becoming an All-Star in this league and Markelle Fultz literally forgot how to shoot jumpers. Only time will tell if passing on Luka Doncic in favor of Young was a smart move, which is why I want to look at Young’s time at Oklahoma to dissect why you should be optimistic and why the Hawks might need to count on that Dallas pick to help even the deal.
Why We Should Believe That Trae Young Will Be Just Fine
The 6’2 guard led the NCAA in both scoring and assists last season. That’s impressive no matter how you slice it. He dragged an otherwise poor Oklahoma team to the NCAA tournament all while playing in the toughest conference in America. He only shot 36 percent from three and 42.2 percent from the field, however OU didn’t have much talent around him. He faced double teams every night and still went for 27.4 points and 8.2 assists per game.
To help explain Young’s average shooting percentage (especially for a guy being hailed as the next Steph Curry,) I’m going to point to a January 20 loss to Oklahoma State. The Sooners fell 83-81 in overtime and Young only shot 35.9 percent from the field. However, he tallied a career high 48 points in that game. No other Sooner scored in double digits. The four starters not named Young combined to shoot 11-of-32 from the field including 3-of-10 and 3-of-11 from Brady Manek and Christian James respectively. If it looked like Young shot too much or was a selfish teammate at times, its because he had to be.
In a way, Trae Young is sort of like Lonzo Ball with a jump shot. He has next-level court vision which helped lead to his 8.2 assists per game. Summer League showed us that he might struggle with his jumper at times, but the guy is a flat out playmaker. He’s the kind of guy that can get you 16 points on 3-of-12 shooting because of how he can beat his man off the dribble and get to the basket (and subsequently the foul line). At the very least, his playmaking should make him an alright player in the league.
Why Trae Young Could Struggle This Year
While it is well known that Young led the NCAA in points and assists, he also led the nation in another category: turnovers. He coupled 8.2 assists with 5.2 turnovers per game. The Sooners lost 11 of its final 15 games. Young’s numbers fell across the board in conference play, slashing just .393/.326/.863 against the Sooners more quality opponents. The biggest knock (other than turnovers) on Young’s offensive game, was that he didn’t shoot the ball at great percentages when it really mattered.
While the NBA Summer League is far from the final measuring stick for NBA prospects, it isn’t exactly encouraging that Young shot just 23.1 percent from the field and 12.5 percent from three in Utah, particularly as a guy who comes in to the league as a “shooter.” Young also averaged 3.6 turnovers across three games in Salt Lake City (before improving in Vegas) and posted a -56 plus/minus. Again, this is all to be taken with the saltiest grains of salt. If anything, it adds even more intrigue for the regular season. Young was playing against far lesser talent in the summer league than what he will see in the NBA, but he was also playing with lesser players.
Ultimately, the former Sooner will need to mature a little bit on the court. He no longer needs to carry his team to wins all by himself. He made some heavily contested shots in summer league and missed some that he should’ve made. He showed flashes of the kind of player he was in college.
Once he gets some real game reps in and gets his feet wet, he should be fine. Most rookies need time to adjust to the NBA game. The good news for Young is that Atlanta is a young team playing the rebuilding game. Winning now is not a priority for this team, and that should give Young plenty of room to grow. Having vets like Jeremy Lin and Vince Carter in the locker room should also help his transition.