Two years ago, nobody thought Trae Young was going to be a one-and-done college star, let alone himself. He lit the college basketball ablaze by becoming the first player in Division I history to lead the country in scoring and assists (averaging 27.4 APG and 8.7 APG). He resembled Stephen Curry incarnate in college basketball with his quick release and limitless range. The glitz and range of his shooting might have masked his best skill - Trae's court vision and playmaking. Regardless, in a matter of months, he went from an unknown prospect the face of college basketball.
The flair and excitement he brought made him a divisive figure. A high usage rate brought about the fact that the ball sometimes stuck to him and his decision making was questioned - as is Trae's ability to function with other high usage NBA players. His scoring - while impressive - was incredibly streaky large in part to the fact that opposition defenses cleverly found a way to slow him down during the second half of the college season. His capability of hanging with the more physical and athletic defenders in the NBA hurt his draft stock for some teams. With his peaks equalling his troughs, would he ever have a chance of being a star?
Being a starting NBA point guard as a rookie is arguably the hardest job in the sport. He didn't get off to the best start as he struggled to find his shot and adjust to the physicality of the NBA.
The past few weeks, however, have been a revelation for the Texas-born point guard. Three-quarters of the way into the season, Trae is averaging 18.3 PPG on 15 shot attempts, 7.8 APG, while shooting 41.6% from the field and 34% from deep in just under 31 MPG. Were it not for Luka Doncic's historic first season in the NBA, Trae Young would be the face of the 2018 rookie class and the frontrunner for the Rookie of the Year Award.
The early struggles were just a teething issue. Trae Young is one of the most versatile and skilled rookie point guards of the 21st century. This is just a straight up fact. Compared to some of the other incredible point guards currently in the game, Trae is statistically at their level or above some despite averaging fewer minutes.
Pass, dribble, and shoot - Trae Young is the physical embodiment of offensive versatility. Each skill compliments the other and opens the floor for him to operate. Trae's shooting is his most eye-popping skill that brings the about the loudest cheers. But his limitless passing with either hand is what makes him a rare commodity.
Much like a chess player, he can see the moves of opposing teams and strikes accordingly. Despite being the tender age of 20, his passing in transition and the pick-and-roll make him the perfect guard to build an offense around. His court vision is accompanied by an ambidextrous ability to put the right bounce and velocity on his passes puts them right on target for his teammates.
His handle too is already at an elite level that. Getting past defenders with ease, he has the Nash-like ability to survey and make plays for himself or his teammates from anywhre on the floor.
Having a quicker first step than the Canadian Hall-Of-Famer, Trae Young needs to slow down at times as his overpenetration leaves him in tricky situations. He either gets lost in no-mans land on a standstill or is forced to make a bad pass that is often deflected.
Unlike some of the other young point guards to grace the hardwood, Trae is acutely aware of the fact that the older players in the league are looking to show a rookie their place. As he drives into the lane, Trae can draw in defenders and always seems to find the open man in time to get him an easy shot.
The Hawks love to push the ball and play with the second-fastest pace in the NBA. At fourth place, Atlanta is among the league leaders in 3-pointers attempted per game so far this season. One would only assume that Trae would continue to jack up shots from beyond the arc like he did in college. Many of his shots in his single season at Oklahoma were reckless and uncalled for as they came early in the shot clock. He has since become a much smarter basketball player only attempting 5.8 shots from deep in comparison to over 10 shots per game he tried in college.
His three-point shooting got off to a rough start but has since improved to a respectable 34% for the season. He is comfortable shooting off either shoulder, off the dribble, or in catch and shoots situations. Given his diminutive frame, he prefers to shoot from well beyond the arc to stretch defenses and create separation. Just over 42% of his 376 attempts from three are from 27 feet or further. While he is shooting below his total average of 34% from this distance, the space it creates on the floor is another weapon that the Hawks can make the most uses of as his efficiency improves.
Also unlike his college days, Trae is attempting fewer step-back jumpers and is shying away from some of the bad habits he picked up at Oklahoma. An increased emphasis on working hard off the ball has made him harder to defend as he scans the floor looking for cuts to the rim or corner threes. With the Hawks trending in the right direction and more playmakers in the pipeline, it will not be long before Trae becomes an elite shooter.
Despite in many ways being an offensive prodigy, his defense has always been a major red flag. His activity off the ball on the defensive end is borderline atrocious and often stands still while his teammates scrap it out. Coming in at 6'2, 180lbs; Trae was never going to be a switchable defender. His slight frame and lack of effort make him easy to pick apart and exploit. His contests are half-assed, and he often gets caught on the tamest of ball-screens. Even when he is in the right position on a favorable matchup, his defense is lethargic at best. Trae Young might not ever be solid team defender - this despite his quickness and basketball IQ that can make him a pesky defender on the weak side.
He will add some muscle to his body and is a transformation that every NBA player goes through. But effort and concentration are both matters that Trae can take into his own hands. The Hawks are certainly not making the playoffs this season and might not even make a run for the 8th seed next year. But the second Atlanta starts to play winning basketball, he as to get better or risk becoming his teams biggest hindrance.
Turnovers are to be expected of any young guard, and Trae Young is no exception. It was a problem for him in college, and it has transitioned over to his professional career. Unlike his defense, his turnovers are not a result lack of focus or effort. Trae's intentions are always on point. It is just that he often attempts bold plays that are out of his grasp. Letting him play through his mistakes is the best course of action for the Hawks. Point guards with a high usage rate are synonymous with turnovers. This is all part of his development and learning through his mistake is only going to help him and the Hawks in the long-run.
The Atlanta Hawks are not trying to hide the fact that they are bad. Like, really bad. Guys run through them like they are revolving doors and they leak points in defense like the White House does with their internal affairs. They have the third worst defensive rating in the league and their offensive numbers do not any better, This is entirely by design. The Hawks have pushed all their chips towards being young and being terrible in the short-term. Atlanta are doing all they can to acquire as many young assets (in the form of players on their rookie deals or future draft picks) while keeping their books incredibly lean. Their young players are being picked apart by the best of the best with good reason. These are valuable minutes where the likes of Young, John Collins, and Kevin Huerter are playing through their mistakes with little risk involved.
Travis Schlenk deserves credit for all of this, taking the reins of the Hawks in 2017. Schlenk was previously a member of the Golden State Warriors and was a key proponent of building the Curry-Thompson-Green dynasty. Early reports from his work so far in Atlanta is that he is building towards being Warriors of the East with a rookie Trae Young looking more offensively dynamic than a rookie Stephen Curry. Huerter has been the dynamic wing-player that can be effective with a low usage rate while Collins in on the precipice of being a 20-10 big-man. Despite the trio and others being young and raw, the Hawks faithful are full of optimism as their path has been clearly laid out and looks to be incredibly promising.
His lack of defensive effort and streaky shooting aside, Trae Young has made a name for himself as one of the best rookies of his class and is coming for Doncic's place at the top. His ability to pull-up from anywhere on the court combined with his playmaking and court vision make him a great cross between Stephen Curry, Steve Nash, and Chris Paul. Possessing Curry's range, Nash's passing, and Paul's command of the game make him the quintessential point guard of the 21st century. Nash already being in the Hall-Of-Fame with the Curry and Paul not far behind him, the bar is set as high as Everest, and it should be.
But it is also important to realize he has only played professionally for six months. His defensive ceiling notwithstanding, his frame increases the pressure on his shoulders to be expontentially better on the offensive end. Trae's playmaking has to translate into winning basketball that elevates his teammates. Nobody knows what he is like as a leader. This is this first time in his basketball career where Trae has to play alongside talent that is just as good as his. Handling their egos while also checking his own is easier said than done.
Trae Young is not the first NBA player to have a promising start, and he will not be the last. He has to seize the moment and improve on every turn. We do not get to see the best of many talented prospects. His first 64 games have shown that his potential can translate into exciting basketball. Only time will tell if he can take the strides he's made so far to transform himself and the Atlanta Hawks into title contention.