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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Why Lonnie Walker IV could be the next great Spur

That noise you just heard? That was me pushing my chips on the table and making a huge bet. Yup, I am all in on Lonnie Walker IV on being the next great San Antonio Spur. In fact, he could end up squeezing his way into the Spur’s Mt. Rushmore of players.

Before you scream “WHAT ABOUT GINOBILI? OR PARKER?!” give me a chance to explain. Of course, those guys are Hall of Famers in their own rights, and deservedly occupy a place in Spur’s lore alongside Gervin, The Admiral, Duncan and others (I’ll leave Kawhi out of this, the wound is still too sensitive.) So, why am I so high on Walker?

I am going to show you a handful of videos which will delineate why he has every tool Gregg Popovich desires in a prospect. 

Before I mesmerize you with clips of Walker draining both off-ball and on-ball triples, or footage of him manipulating the pick and roll, I’ll give you a tour of his skillset. Fortunately, I covered Walker extensively for this site during the draft days. You can see his whole profile here. For now, indulge me by perusing my 2-minutes-or-less scouting report on him.

We know the physical measurements. Walker stands at 6’4″ with a 6’10.5″ wingspan and owns a muscular frame which should only get stronger. His hops were among the best in his draft class. His feet are agile to hang with speedy guards. Walker has the strength and length to protect the rim as a guard, something which is en vogue in today’s game. Phew, the athletic skill set is covered. Now, onto his talent.

In college, Walker flashed a little bit of everything. Can he shoot stepback 3-pointers? Yes. Can he sidestep for triples ala J.R Smith? Yup. Can he shoot off the catch? You betcha. Pick and roll potential? Sure. Does he have court vision? Another yes.

Defensively, Walker has shown potential as well. This past NBA Summer League he blocked Caleb Swanigan like it was a routine play. He uses his wingspan to poke away balls for steals and has instincts that look to be more than promising. Walker could guard three positions on the court and evolve into a plus defender.

Like all players, Walker has weaknesses. Perhaps “concerns” is a better word. Walker has a tendency to stop the ball and despite having underrated vision, he perpetually looks to score before anything else. Can these habits be worked out? I think so. Plus, his pick and roll game revolves around him scoring the ball, and he needs to work on the facilitating aspect in that area.

Okay. Done. The 2-minutes-or-less scouting report is done.

We can now get to the juicy stuff. No one likes staring at words all day. So, I will provide some video evidence to prove Walker has superstar potential. Furthermore, I will demonstrate how his pliability as a player makes him the ultimate model Spur.

 

Evidence # 1 – Spacing Potential

Do you want to know the brilliance of Coach Pop’s offensive philosophy? In actuality, the man simply may not even have one. He seems to always adapt to the personnel on hand. For instance, The Spurs used to be champions of pace and space, especially when they battled the Miami Heat in recent NBA Finals. Last season, Pop stuck to his midrange guns in order to maximize and revitalize the talent of star player LaMarcus Aldridge.

The question remains, however: How will Walker fit into a system of Pop’s choosing?

Next season, Pop will most likely continue to emphasize the midrange game. After all, he just added midrange specialist and Kobe Bryant imitator DeMar DeRozan. Still, if you were to think that this means floor spacing will no longer be at a premium, you would be wrong. We need to look no further than Danny Green for proof.

In the last two seasons, Green, who plays the same position as Walker, took 62.5 percent of his shots from behind the arc. Compare that to Trevor Ariza, who took around 70 percent of his shots from deep last year as he played for the triples-hoisting Houston Rockets. Can Walker keep this pace?

The numbers indicate he can. Walker took 50.9 percent of his shots from deep. This rate doesn’t match Green’s exactly, but it is trending in the right direction. That is quite a large number of threes to take for a college hoops player. Yet, look at the film. It will show you his potential to be an off-ball floor spacer.

Below, Walker uses an off-ball screen to get open for a triple. Everything he does here is textbook. His footwork is excellent, his elevation is perfect, and he releases the ball precisely where he should.

Need more evidence. Click below and watch Walker drain catch and shoot bombs for about 45 seconds.

The Spurs will always rely on wing floor spacers, and Walker can slide right into that role. However, what if they want someone who can create their own shot?

 

Evidence #2 – Pick and Roll Scorer

While watching this year’s Summer League, I was impressed by Walker’s ability to score out of the pick and roll. Yes, he has not shown too much passing ability as a ball handler, but if Kawhi Leonard can get there, so can Walker. Let us not forget that the most important part of the game is putting that round thing inside of the other round thing.

The Spurs rely on the pick and roll just as much as any other team. It opens up various parts of their game. Sure, they also can deploy incredible ball-moving sequences, but the PnR game is still alive in San Antonio. Walker has shown immense talent in one aspect of it: scoring.

With Pops current offensive scheme, he will love Walker’s ability to drain midrange jumpers off of picks. Watch below for further proof.

Walker drags his man right into a behemoth of a big. Once Walker is defended by a bigger, slower player, he realizes he can bury a jumper. The sagging big defending Walker gives him this shot, and he sinks it.

Here, Walker truly impresses. His defender sticks with him and goes over the screen. Walker knows he has a step on him anyways, and decided to pull up on a dime. The rim protector is waving his arms like a dummy. The guard defending Walker contests him, but Walker is not bothered. In fact, he continues to hit the shot while getting fouled.

What frightens me the most about this (I say frighten because I am not a Spurs fan) is picturing Walker doing this in late-game situations. When 3 minutes remain in a game, teams tend to lean on their scorers to take their man off the dribble and simply get a bucket. If Walker can do this routinely, he could develop into a feared closer.

Example #3 – Cutting

When thinking of Spurs basketball, I often envision someone getting a pass from Boris Diaw for an open, backdoor layup. Despite relying on a more compact offensive court, Coach Pop will continue to looks for easy hoops. Walker has off-ball possibilities and athleticism to be the benefactor of this style of play.

When you get a chance, go watch some Walker dunk highlights. I won’t show them here, but I will show you a very Spursian Summer League play.

In this clip, Walker takes advantage of a typical Spurs set. The man with the ball has two floor spacers to his right. On the left side, a player sets a back pick for Walker. The rim protector and switch man is caught sleeping and Walker flies in for a layup. Can you picture LaMarcus Aldridge or adept passer Pau Gasol doing this? I can.

Walker’s offensive instincts in this area are appealing. Keep your eyes on him for this entire play. At points, Miami ran an NBA style horns set, which features shooters in the corners. Walker does not idle. Instead, he waits for the perfect time to cut to the hoop and make a bucket. Pops will utilize Walker’s instincts nicely.

Example #4 – Pick and Roll passing/Vision

This is an area of concern for Walker, but do not worry about it too much. If he wants to see the floor in San Antonio, Walker will need to move the ball more. He is still developing this part of his game, but Walker has shown he possesses the vision necessary to do so.

In the clip below, Walker will use his screen to find an open teammate.

You didn’t see that guy standing in the corner, did you? Neither did I. Walker did, however, and that is all that matters. The next sequence shows more of the same.

Is what Walker doing here overly magnificent? No. But it does show he can see other players on the court and make the right read. Do you want to know the next step in his career? Click here to see Kawhi Leonard show his versatility as a pick and roll passer. If Walker can do that, his ceiling rises exponentially.

 

Example #5 – Defense/Defensive Instincts

You have to be a special player to get playing time for Coach Pops if you do not play hard defense. Fortunately for Walker, he has the defensive tools to see the court.

Defending the fast break is something which is very hard to do. It does not reveal too much about a player’s overall ability, as these plays do not happen in the half court, obviously. It can, however, demonstrate a player’s instincts.

In a 4 on 2 situation, Walker defends beautifully. I am a proponent of taking a gamble in this situation, and Walker does. It results in a steal as he reads the ball handlers eyes in order to pick off the pass.

In the next clip, Walker looks reminiscent of a former Spurs wing. He uses his length to effortlessly poke away the ball. Active hands are a Spurs staple.

Walker loves to compete on the defensive end of the floor, which is a must for Popovich. In addition to that, Walker has elite defensive tools. His learning curve to NBA defensive schemes will be tough, but it is for most rookies. Regardless, Walker possesses the smarts to come out on top here.

 

Conclusion

I love this kid.

Remember when Dion Waiters was getting drafted? Or how about Terrence Ross? Scouts were a little weary of these kids, but they said they both had superstar potential. Well folks, Walker has the same potential but comes at less of a risk.

His work ethic is wonderful. The measurables are off the charts for his position. His shooting is where it needs to be and his pick and roll facilitating game has glimpses of hope. Defensively, we could be looking at a plus defender.

It is his flat-out scoring ability which gives him superstar potential, however. How many players in the NBA can hit the shot shown in the gif below?

Lonnie-Walker-stepback.gif

A one-dribble, stepback going to his right with a defender in his grill? Sign me up.

Lonnie Walker will end up being the steal of this draft. He is Zhaire Smith, but minus the “if he ever develops a consistent jumper” part. He’s Donte Divincenzo with a higher ceiling. Think Mikal Bridges but with an offensive repertoire that extends beyond catch and shoot threes, or a Grayson Allen with better hops and untapped potential.

You’ll forget about Kawhi soon enough, Spurs fans.

Which Brooklyn Nets newcomer will make the biggest impact?

Dzanan Musa

The Brooklyn Nets are going to look a lot different next season than they did last season. But you probably won’t notice the difference until the starters take a seat and the bench gets involved.

General manager Sean Marks has executed a role-player overhaul this summer, adding six new players to the roster and subtracting a handful more to hopefully bring something resembling stability to a team that suited up 22 men last season.

It is unlikely, however, that any of the Nets’ newcomers will be in the starting five on 2018-19’s opening night.

Brooklyn’s offseason haul include 2018 draft picks Dzanan Musa and Rodion Kurucs; free agents Shabazz Napier and Ed Davis; and trade acquisitions Kenneth Faried and Jared Dudley, whom the Nets landed via trades with the Denver Nuggets and Phoenix Suns, respectively.

The Nets also traded for future Hall of Fame center Dwight Howard, but promptly bought him out. (He then signed with the Washington Wizards.) Darrell Arthur, who came to Brooklyn in the Faried trade, didn’t even get fitted for a Nets uniform before the team sent him to Phoenix in the Dudley deal.

Brooklyn also acquired the draft rights to 21-year-old French guard Isaia Cordinier in the Jeremy Lin trade, but Cordinier is recovering from double knee surgery and is viewed as a draft-and-stash prospect. He may never make an NBA appearance – at least not this upcoming season.

None of the Nets’ newcomers are expected to supplant returners D’Angelo Russell, Allen Crabbe, DeMarre Carroll, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Jarrett Allen — the team’s projected starting five.

But they can make a difference and help Brooklyn take the small steps necessary toward returning to the playoffs … or at least crack the 30-win barrier for the first time since 2015.

Which Nets newcomer will make the biggest impact?

Looking at the roster and the resumes, Faried would look like the one with the greatest potential to contribute right away.

The 28-year-old big man fell out of the rotation in Denver, but he’s not too far removed from the days when he was good enough to be on the U.S. national team at the 2014 FIBA World Cup. That same year, the Nuggets inked “The Manimal” to a four-year, $50 million contract extension and appeared ready to make him the face of the franchise.

Faried was good for about 13 points and nine rebounds per game at the time. With his high-energy, high-flying, power-dunking style, he was a fan favorite and was starting to pop up in some of the NBA’s national marketing campaigns.

But Faried never made that leap to the next level of stardom. Then after the Nuggets hired Mike Malone as their head coach in 2015, Faried’s role decreased gradually, as his skill set just didn’t fit with Malone’s system. Last season, Faried saw action in only 32 games, and played just 14 minutes per night when he did make it off the bench.

In Brooklyn, Faried is penciled in as a backup to starting center Jarrett Allen, who is only 20 years old and still has a lot of developing to do. He’ll have to compete with Davis for time, but Faried is a natural power forward, so there can be minutes for him at that position as well. There should be an opportunities for Faried to become a productive player in the league again.

Napier is also a strong candidate to be the Nets’ biggest impact newcomer.

He had some standout moments last season as the backup to All-Star point guard Damian Lillard with the Portland Trail Blazers, averaging 8.7 points and 2.0 assists in 20 minutes per game. In the 10 games Napier started, he averaged 15.0 points and 4.2 assists in 33 minutes per game.

But on the Nets’ depth chart, Napier is slotted at No. 3 behind D’Angelo Russell and Spencer Dinwiddie at point guard. Russell and Dinwiddie also happen to be arguably Brooklyn’s two best players; Russell led the team in scoring last season (15.5 ppg) while Dinwiddie led the team in assists (6.6 apg).

Unless one of them gets injured, or Nets head coach Kenny Atkinson plans to run a lot of small-ball and guard-heavy lineups, Napier may not get as much playing time as you’d expect for a player who left a playoff team to join a lottery team.

Among the Nets’ new additions, I think the one who will make the biggest impact next season is rookie Dzanan Musa.

Listed at 6-foot-9 and 195 pounds, Musa is a 19-year-old from Bosnia & Herzegovina who will most likely play shooting guard and/or small forward, but also played some point guard with his Croatian League team and could even be a power forward in a small lineup.

Musa averaged 12.3 points per game last season for the Croatian club Cedevita, hitting 47 percent of his field goals and 31 percent of his three-pointers. He won the EuroCup’s Rising Star Trophy, as well as the ABA League’s Top Prospect honor and was named to the All-ABA League team.

The Nets landed Musa with the 29th pick in the first round, but his talent and potential had him projected by a lot of draft experts to go earlier.

Musa will have some veterans ahead of him on the depth chart going into training camp — including Crabbe, Carroll, Caris LeVert and Joe Harris — but his versatility and ability to play more than two positions could buy him court time wherever the Nets may be lacking depth at a given time.

Musa’s game reminds me a lot of Bogdan Bogdanovic, who averaged 11.8 points as a rookie for the Sacramento Kings last season. Bogdanovic may have been the best pure shooter in the 2017-18 rookie class. Musa has a similar ability to shoot with range and create his own offense, plus he’s three inches taller than Bogdanovic.

Of course there are weaknesses and areas in Musa’s game where he’ll struggle, and that will cost him playing time. He’ll almost certainly be pressed to add some muscle to his slender frame, which could impact how much Atkinson uses him until he gets stronger; especially as his strength (or lack thereof) will play a factor into how he’s able to defend on the NBA level.

In Europe, Musa played with the confidence of Stephen Curry on a hot streak and appeared to have a green light to do pretty much whatever he wanted. How will he respond when he doesn’t get as much freedom and room to take risks on an NBA court?

Musa has a lot of upside and the look of a player who can be very good in a few years. But I think he will be better than a lot of people expect this year.

More than a long-term project, Musa could be a short-term solution and Brooklyn’s most valuable newcomer.

 

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