Rookie Update: Trae Young’s game management

(photo cred: SB Nation)

A couple days ago, Trae Young and his Atlanta Hawks played the Miami Heat and came out victorious. While a win over a well-coached Heat team with a winning culture is certainly impressive, the most impressive feat was Young’s ability to make good decisions with the ball.

15 assists later, we see why Young was such a highly touted prospect.

Lucky for you, I am here to take you through this game, as well as others. Read on and find out exactly why Young has had a promising start to his career. Take a peek into his future and see how Young has adapted to the NBA game, and proving why scouts may be wrong about his game management skills.

Flashback: Where did we have Trae Young ranked?

Young was our number four prospect overall. His player profile highlighted some of the usual strengths for Young: NBA Range, extreme handle, excellent vision. It also profiled his weaknesses, such as his slight frame, shot selection, and inability to quarterback the game (or so we thought.)

During his initial NBA season, we expected Young to have some growing pains. He is going to take pull-up jumpers when he should pass instead, he is going to take contested shots among the trees, he is going to take 30 footers 9 seconds into the shot clock. Fine, okay.

Yet, what Young has shown so far is encouraging. With each game, his decision making has become better. While it may not always show in the turnover numbers, it shows in the eye test. Thankfully, there is plenty of game tape available.

Stick with me as I take you some early season progression of Trae Young’s game.

1. Pass this ball!

Earlier this year, against the Dallas Mavericks, Trae Young dazzled during the late stages of the game. Yet, he still made a crucial mistake when driving against forward Maxi Kleber.

Young beat Kleber off the dribble and darted towards the hoop, where rim-protector DeAndre Jordan was waiting. Seemingly, Young was scared by the prospect of DJ, and decided to cut back into Kleber in order to put his shot up. Consequentially, the shot was swatted.

Young missed a wide open Alex Len in the corner. Len has not been known to be a 3-point shooter, but check out his current 3-point numbers.

Per Game Table
Season Age Tm Lg Pos G 3P 3PA 3P%
2017-18 24 PHO NBA C 69 0.0 0.0 .333
2018-19 25 ATL NBA C 9 0.7 1.8 .375
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 11/6/2018.

Additionally, Len is taking half of his 3-pointers from the corner and hitting 37.5 percent of those attempts. What’s my point? Young should have kicked this ball to Len for a corner triple. Instead, he went back into the much taller defender and had his shot blocked. Check out the video below.

2. The right decision.

Bad decision by Young, correct? It seemed like he learned from this mistake, however. Look at what Young did against the Heat during the opening stages of their game. After beating Josh Richardson off the bounce, Young sees the monstrosity of Hassan Whiteside coming to protect the paint. So, what does he do?

This time, Young noticed that Kelly Olynyk was also coming over to be a shot blocker. Olynyk left his man, Omari Spellman, wide open. Young displayed his top-notch vision and slinged a gorgeous one-handed, left-handed pass to Spellman who drilled the triple.

The change in decision making here is noteworthy.  Will Young continue to make this good decision? No, not all the time. But his ability to recognize this shot-blocking threat and find the open shooter is nothing to be taken lightly. Simply put, not every starting NBA guard can make this read or deliver this pass. 

3. Using the body correctly

Guess what? Its Kleber time again! This time around, Young absolutely embarrassed Dennis Smith Jr with some nifty ball-handling (Sorry, DSJ!) Then, he takes on Kleber. Young is able to go strong into the chest of Kleber, and then bounce away from him. This gives him the space possible to put up a solid layup attempt, which goes in.

In the prior Young/Kleber clip, Young moved back into Kleber, but it did not create space. In fact, it eliminated space. Watch below and see exactly what I am talking about. This is what Young needs to do more of.

Young can finish around the rim, despite his small frame. He needs to pick and choose when to do so, however. Yet, the signs are showing that Young may be getting the hang of this.

4. Manipulating opposing big men

Out of all the Trae Young footage I have watched this year, this clip may be my favorite. And for good reason, too.

The Hawks run a horn set here, and the play is designed to free up either Spellman or Kent Bazemore for a 3-pointer. We know this because Len abandons his pick for Young and instead, runs crosscourt to set a screen for Bazemore. Bazemore (probably) has the option of going backdoor for a lob or coming around the pick to get a catch-and-shoot trey. He is well defended and the option for a pass is not there.

Young’s next read is to be for Spellman who popped to the perimeter. Yet, Young is doubled off of the pick, and has no clear angle to Spellman. What he does next displays his high-level basketball IQ and a growing sense of patience.

Young’s first two options are blown up, so he maintains his dribble and takes Olynyk one on one. KO’s upright stance is not ideal for the Heat. What’s more, capable defender Josh Richardson gets turned around, and in that instant he loses Spellman who cuts hard towards the rim.

So, Young fakes a layup attempt to free up the space needed to dump a pass off to Spellman. Trae has minimal room to make this pass, but sneaks it in there regardless. Spellman gets an and-one. Watch the entire clip for two angles of this play.

This play shows you the eyes that reside in the back of Mr. Young’s head. His playmaking ability is much better that what we saw during his college days, as he has more court to operate with. NBA spacing has done wonders for Young already, and he will continue to take advantage of spacing as his game grows. His ability to force opposing bigs into troubling situations is truly impressive sometimes.

5. Turning down good shots

Uhhhh….who thought we would be criticizing Young for turning down 3-pointers during his rookie season? Not me.

During this play, Young collects his rebound from a miss and resets the offense. Eventually, he gets the ball in a pick and roll and has tons of space for an open trey ball. Before I show you the film, take a look at how much space he has for the 3-point shot.

young 3 spacing.PNG

For a guy with such shooting prowess, this needs to be a pull-up 3-point attempt. Needs. To. Be. NBA analytic nerds probably cursed aloud when they saw this poor decision making. Young would go on to make a running jumper, but it was an inefficient shot that will miss more times than it goes in.

6. Pushing the pace with the pass

At Oklahoma, Young had an absurdly high usage percentage. My guy held the ball for what seemed like forever. Scouts worried if this would carry over to the League. So far, it looks like Young has made some substantial changes to the way he approaches offense.

Specifically, Young has placed an emphasis on pushing the pace. Yet, he is not always doing this by flying down the court with the ball in his hands. Young is letting that thang fly, and finding wide open players for both fast break 3-pointers and dunks. Example one is below.

Young never puts this ball down after receiving it with one hand. Love the celebration as well. In this next example, Young shows that he still has to learn when it’s the best time to make this pass.

As the Heat score this bucket, keep your eyes on Trae. He never takes his eyes off of Taurean Prince. Young rips a full court pass to Prince and hopes TP can make something out of nothing. Miami already has defenders back and the play eventually results in a travel from Len.

This is still promising, though. Young clearly already has great chemistry with Prince. Not only does he let Prince operate with the ball on a ton of possessions without interfering, but he constantly looks for Prince during breakouts. If anything, it may be Prince that needs to be more alert! The clip below will demonstrate what I mean.

Wrap up

We are still way to early into Trae Young’s career, but he is surely proving the “bust” scouts wrong. Mile Bridges has some words to say to these people.

Want some more Twitter stuff? Yes, you do. We all do. This one comes courtesy of a fellow stats nerd. With all the early season rookie hype going to Luka Doncic (as well as Wendell Carter Jr, among others), we may have overlooked Young’s hot start to his career. His first few games compare pretty well to another NBA legend.

Hmmmm….Of course, to project Young to be the next Big O would be irresponsible. But, Young is quieting critics everywhere. His decision making is constantly improving. Sure, he has to continue to nail down when to shoot the ball and when to make the right pass. This will come, however, as Young has shown he is trending in the right direction here.

Get on the bandwagon now, people. There is still room.

@Mattesposito

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