Trae Young, 6’2, 180 lbs., taken 5th overall in the 2018 NBA draft has dropped 35 points against the Cleveland Cavaliers on the 21/10/18. The only other recent draft picks to score that many points? LeBron James and Stephen Curry. Both players have gone on to become the face of the NBA but is Trae Young on the same trajectory as these two? Most likely not and here is why.
We are going to look at all the factors surrounding young and what previous players have done in the past that has led them to greatness. We will be focusing on just guards, in particular, Stephen Curry who Young has drawn the most comparisons with.
The Atlanta Hawks are in 6’s and 7’s. There is no other way of saying it. After a few years ago of making the playoffs, the Hawks have become a less than interesting team with little potential. Young will change this and make them relevant again by being that potential X-factor that can draw a crowd. There is also a reason that the Hawks front office has decided to make the experience more for the fans and that is a gambit to have more fans actually attend the games so in the hope they do achieve anything; the fan base is already existent.
The Golden State Warriors were in a not too dissimilar situation when Curry first arrived. The team was not a playoff contender but did have one of the most improved players in the NBA at the time, Monta Ellis. Ellis was coming off 19.0 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 3.7 assists season for the Warriors. This gave the Warriors an effective backcourt duo in Curry and Ellis with the defensive pressure being focused on Ellis and not Curry which gave him a less pressured situation to thrive in. When we compare the two, the Hawks are in a worse situation. There aren’t many pieces on this Hawks team that could be considered valuable. Potentially John Collins who is coming of an above average rookie season but otherwise there is a lot of nothing. The warriors were in the perfect situation for a volume shooter to arrive and develop. Offensively, Curry was not expected to carry the load like Young currently is and also had the coaching and teammates around him for him to succeed. This could potentially happen for Young with future draft picks and trades but as it currently stands, he is not in the best situation for him to develop into the next Hall of Fame point guard.
Stepping away from the comparison between Curry and Young for a moment, lets assess the opposition in which Young was playing against. The Cleveland Cavaliers are a shell of what they were last year. Kevin Love is head and shoulders above the standard of their next best player with the franchise trying to develop the young Cedi Osman and Colin Sexton. Their starting backcourt is extremely inconsistent and their depth is below average at best. We do need to acknowledge credit where it is due in the fact that dropping 35 points against any NBA team is an achievement one can take throughout their rookie season with great pride but does it prove that someone is the next big thing. Unfortunately, it does not. When young is advancing the ball, he was be picked up by George Hill. A moderately consistent player, who has definitely been around the block and is beginning the twilight of his career. Young has almost every statistical category over him and more importantly, as speed and quickness over Hill. For someone who is a volume shoot, speed and quickness are essential as being able to get yourself space after a pick and roll and being quicker off the dribble is all that is needed to create and opening to shoot a 3 or a midrange shot. Young scored 6 threes and 13 from the field which are impressive numbers, although he only reached the line 3 times which shows it was strictly shooting from distance rather than getting to the line. Against an aging guard, this was an effective strategy. We can also look at the Cav’s last few opponents, the Toronto Raptors and Minnesota Timberwolves, both who have had their key guard drop 20+ points on the Cleveland backcourt. Again, not trying to take too much away from Young who has completed an outstanding feat within his first 3 games but for someone that people are claiming to be a future MVP and Rookie of The Year, shouldn’t this be expected against a team like the Cavs rather than a surprise?
Loading up the ball from the 3 line is a common occurrence in the league currently with many teams loading up the shot 30+ times a game. There are only a few players in the league that currently have the licence from their team to do it as often as they want. It is hard pressed to find one of these players that isn’t a past MVP or MVP candidate. Why? People value the Points Per Game stat above all else. This is where Young may have a chance to nail his name down as a great player but the thing all the volume shooters have in common? Winning. When you look at the MVP candidates who take 20+ shots a game for the last few years the thing they all have in common are their team wins. Are the Hawks anywhere close to that? No sir. They will be struggling for the foreseeable future with the only chance being drafting gems or trading and hoping things work out. The best chance for Young to become someone who is averaging 30ppg on 20 on more shots and is taking their team to higher places is for the Hawks to get more pieces around him. Unfortunately, this is not the 2000’s where having one superstar player can drag your team to greatness. Teams required at minimum two perennial All-Stars to hope to make a finals run.
What does Young need to succeed?
The short version is he needs a better team around him. Unfortunately that is as blunt and real as it gets. The franchise does not have the pieces around him to make a play-off run anytime soon. No team that is attempting to make playoffs has one superstar with a group of average role-players around him. But what about Utah with Donovan Mitchell you ask? The team around Mitchell is defensively outstanding; with multiple players that can do it on both ends of the floor and also is coached by Quinn Schneider who could possible be considered a top 5 coach in the league. Going back to Young, what he needs is a partner around him to carry the offensive load while also picking up a key defender in a backcourt partner who can help defend the stronger guard. Not forgetting that Young is 6’2 which is unfortunately considered a smaller guard, he is only 180 lbs. which can mean larger guards can smash through him and get to the rim or can put him in uncomfortable switches that will force him to defend someone with height and weight on him. The perfect trade would be someone like Dante Exum who is a long 6’6 guard who can defend multiple positions while being a threat offensively from deep. If John Collins continues his development, he could be the offensive rebounder and threat in close that can assist Young in taking some of the offensive pressure off while also being a rim protector Atlanta desperately need.
When assess all the factors surrounding Trae Young, we can see that he has potential to be a lights out shooter but is lacking the players around him to be an all time great it is still early days for his career but from an assessment of his current situation, it is difficult to see him becoming a consistent playoff contender as well as some that could be considered an all time great. A good comparison for his ceiling would be potentially a less Kemba Walker. Walker scores almost at will and carries his team offensively night in and night out. He is not necessary a liability on defence but is definitely a weaker defender on his team considering his size and length. He also is the focal piece of the Charlotte Hornets with no other superstar around him to assist him. His team does not make the playoffs and although he will go down as a Hornets great and potentially be considered for the Hall of Fame due to his achievements with that franchise, he will not win an MVP or a championship with his current teams set up. Young’s floor would most likely be a Seth Curry. Seth can be a lights out shooter but lacks the size and quickness to defend at a consistent standard. He has bounced around from team to team due to his outstanding shooting but has never been able to cement a spot down due to the other factors he is lacking. I do not want to see Young become a player like this with his upside but there is always a chance things do not work out for him.
I would love to be wrong about this. Being wrong would mean Atlanta becomes a more exciting team and a young man can achieve greatness. Unfortunately, with all that surrounds the youthful Trae Young and the Hawks, I do not see this happening now or anytime in the near future.
– Jack Mirabella
NBA Stats. (2018). Trae Young. [online] Available at: https://stats.nba.com/player/1629027/ [Accessed 22 Oct. 2018].
NBA Stats. (2018). Monta Ellis. [online] Available at: https://stats.nba.com/player/101145/