This is not an introspective piece. This is not an extensive, well-researched feature. I look forward to reading more insightful, analytically-based pieces on why there’s a new All-Star starter in Atlanta from my colleagues. This is me simply publicly admitting, again, I was wrong about Trae Young.
When he first burst on the national scene on a mainstream level as a freshman at the University of Oklahoma, I was on the bandwagon of the freshman guard at the University of Alabama, Collin Sexton. Sexton is a hometown kid from the Atlanta area, and while Young proudly wore the underdog cape throughout his entire basketball life, Sexton’s underdog story was even grimier.
“Young Bull” went from unranked to five-star prospect within a year. He enchanted the internet by calling Penny Hardaway’s son trash and staring into the eyes of a defender during a free throw in a petty manner. He became a viral sensation without having his own personal social media presence. Although Sexton has the athletic ability to jump out the gym at 6-foot-1, he was never the most naturally-skilled basketball player amongst other elite players in the country but his motor made him stand out.
Young’s game remained the same — flashy and fun to watch. However, as his efficiency declined after carrying the Sooners all season, Sexton kept Alabama’s NCAA hopes alive by sprinting the length of the floor and hitting a game-winning floater at the buzzer against Texas A&M. While Young opened the season with high-scoring performances filled with aesthetically-pleasing highlights, Sexton literally scratched and clawed his way to 40 points in a three-on-five battle against Minnesota.
Yes, Young led the nation in assists and points as a freshman but who was he playing with? Sound familiar?
All-in-all, I slowly adopted the idea Young was the high risk, high reward pick who fit Travis Schlenk’s vision in Atlanta as the rumors that led up to the draft heated up. Instead of picking “safe,” swing for the fences and send the flashiest player and biggest name in college basketball to a city thirsty for an NBA star. I was in.
My doubt is a common theme in the long list of Young’s well-documented underdog journey.
He should’ve left his hometown high school for a prep school. He should’ve chosen Kansas, Kentucky or Duke instead of Oklahoma. He should’ve stayed another season after a forgettable and inconsistent second half of freshman year.
Not big enough. Not strong enough. Not tough enough. Won’t be able to do the same thing at the next level. Last but not least, the centerpiece of “one of the five worst trades this century.”
Young is the talk of this year’s All-Star starters because of his team’s record. He is the talk of these All-Star starters because of his defense. He’s the talk of these All-Star starters because of his clutch shooting numbers or whatever stat you want to nitpick at next.
He’ll be the first one to tell he needs to continue to improve his defense, as well as cut down on his turnovers. His primary partner in crime, John Collins, would be the first to tell you it wasn’t Young’s fault he was suspended for over a quarter of the season, or the team’s third-best player Kevin Huerter also dealt with injuries that held him out for a handful of games.
Young is top four in the league in scoring and assists. Many of his starting lineups have featured two-to-three rookies and Damian Jones, who averaged 10.5 minutes per game in his first three seasons.
Before the return of Collins or the recent comeback heroics of Brandon Goodwin, the Hawks often looked like five men on the court who had no idea what to do with a basketball in their hands when Young was off the floor. He has consistently been the best point guard in the Eastern Conference this season.
Blame the record, defense or say he was only voted in because of a popularity contest (even if the media and players also ranked him highly). It’s the only way Young should be received after earning his biggest accomplishment yet.
Some of the outrage is justified, some of it stems from not watching a full-length Hawks game, some of it is from fans of other teams who will rant regardless. A lot of it, however, comes from a place of long-rooted stubbornness.
Many of us were wrong about Trae Young in high school, college, in the summer league, rookie preseason and his first two months in the NBA.
While Sexton is holding on fairly well for a second-year player and doesn’t look like an absolute bust, I was extremely wrong in thinking he was better than Young.
Cat’s out the bag. I was way off on that take.
Now, it’s the time to, finally, admit many of you were also wrong about Trae Young.