Despite The Shaky Start, Trae Young Will Be Just Fine

Trae Young has gone through a media coverage ringer since he made his first start for Oklahoma. ESPN covered Young endlessly, and the sweet-shooting point guard drew comparisons to two-time MVP Steph Curry. By season’s end, opponents were better prepared to defend Oklahoma’s one-man show. The Sooners sputtered towards the latter part of the year, and eventually endured an early exit in the NCAA Tournament (thanks to a mid-major in Rhode Island). Young then began earning buzz as a potential bust. His shaky shot selection, slight frame, and underwhelming athleticism have all been called into question.

An early look at Young’s production seem to support the “bust” claims. Through 39 career starts, Young is shooting 29 percent from three, and is averaging 4.0 turnovers per game. Young has struggled from nearly every spot on the floor, and might be the single worst defender in all of basketball (ESPN’s Real Plus/Minus seems to think so). Making matters worse has been Luka Dončić’s sudden rise to stardom. Dončić and Young were involved in a draft-day deal, and it didn’t take long for NBA fans to crown the Mavericks as the clear and decisive winners in the deal. While the Mavs are certainly pleased with their decision, the Hawks shouldn’t be feeling buyer’s remorse just yet.

In the past twenty years, only three players have averaged 15.0 PPG and 7.0 APG in their rookie season: Chris Paul, John Wall, and Ben Simmons. Young will add his name to that impressive list by season’s end. He’s a gifted passer, and possesses an innate sense for where his teammates are on the floor. Young’s playmaking often went underappreciated during the draft process. However, this could end up being his defining trait throughout his NBA career.

I’m confident his shot will come around. Most rookie point guards are highly inefficient. The aforementioned Paul shot 28 percent from three during his rookie season. Young’s usage rate is through the roof. He sports a number that checks in just under All-NBA big Karl-Anthony Towns. The type of person that gives up on Young would have done the same to Kemba Walker after his inefficient rookie year. Young possesses a smooth stroke, and has no trouble finding his shot in space. It’s also worth noting that Young is shooting 44.9 percent from deep on 3.5 attempts since December 8th (14 games).

Additionally, Young has proven he can get to the foul line with some regularity. His 6.3 free throw attempts per 100 possessions is a higher mark than virtually every great point guard in the league during their rookie year (a 20-year-old rim-destroying Russell Westbrook being the exception). Finding other ways to contribute when your shot isn’t falling is an adventure for every young guard, and Young seems to have a decent handle of making a difference on the scoreboard when he isn’t hoisting bombs.

Defense will never truly worry me in a rookie. While nearly every metric points to Young being a major minus on that end, it doesn’t necessarily mean he can’t evolve into a competent defender. De’Aaron Fox regularly checked in at the bottom of advanced defensive stat last season, and has quickly turned into a pesky perimeter defender. Curry boasts a similar build and athletic ceiling as Young, and has slowly developed into a capable defender through elite instincts and length. While Young doesn’t possess the same anticipatory prowess of Curry, he’s a heady player that can disrupt passing lanes and force turnovers. In today’s age of unguardable point guards, that might be just enough.

Don’t sell your Young stock just yet. The best is yet to come. There’s plenty of reason to optimistic about the young guard’s future.

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