You’ve clicked on this story for one of three reasons: You believe Trae Young is the real deal, something special built for today’s NBA; you aren’t a fan of Trae Young but believe this story could convince you otherwise, as he’s an option for the Bulls at No. 7; you aren’t a fan of Trae Young and want to comment something inappropriate and ask us how we even got this job.
No, there isn’t another player in recent memory who has drawn such mixed reviews from fan bases since Young, the undersized point guard (bad) who last year became the first player ever to lead the NCAA in points and assists (good). He doesn’t play much defense at all (bad) but could become a historically good offensive player (good). He wasn’t very efficient (bad) but was asked to do anything and everything to will an average Oklahoma team to the NCAA Tournament (good).
You can play the good/bad game with any prospect the last decade except Anthony Davis, but the passion displayed by those analyzing Young in a positive or negative light has been taken to new heights.
He’s not Jimmer Fredette, who lasted all of five seasons averaging 6.0 points in the NBA. And he’s not Stephen Curry, the greatest shooter in league history and a lock for the Hall of Fame at 30 years old. The question NBA general managers will have to answer is whether Young is closer to becoming someone like Curry than he is Fredette. And should any NBA executives ask us our opinion we’ll let them know: Oklahoma point guard Trae Young has NBA superstar written all over him.
The most important number you’ll need to know with Young is 38.4. Young’s usage rate not only led the country, it was the highest rate of any player who played in 50 percent of his team’s minutes since 2008. Seventeen players have reached even 36.0 percent usage; that list consists of 10 seniors, three juniors, two sophomores and two freshmen (Miami Ohio’s Michael Weathers in 2017 being the other). It wasn’t just that Oklahoma relied heavily on Young. They relied on him more than any player in the country the last decade, and they relied on him as a 19-year-old who months earlier was attending prom.
Of those 17 players, Young’s assist rate (48.3) was far and away the highest, while his true shooting percentage (5th) and offensive rating (4th) were both outstanding. The point here is: don’t hold Young’s inefficient raw shooting (42.2 percent) or raw turnovers (5.2) against him; he was thrown into the fire and asked to do more than any player in college basketball. For all he was asked to do, he was plenty efficient in his massive, unprecedented role.
One of those juniors in the 36% usage rate club, of course, was Curry. The shooting sensation from Davidson was otherworldly as a junior, compiling an absurd 60.5 true shooting percentage, 118.0 offensive rating and burying 127 3-pointers at a nearly 37 percent clip. Curry went seventh overall in the 2009 NBA Draft amid concerns about his decision making and defense. Sound familiar?
Young’s calling card was his isolation prowess. He averaged 1.12 points per possession on 157 possessions, putting him in the 85th percentile nationally, per Synergy Sports. That was a tick better than Curry, who averaged 0.93 PPP in isolation. Young also used nearly 37 percent of his possessions in pick-and-roll action. If a freshman’s game could ever be NBA-ready, it’s Young’s; 335 pick-and-roll possessions is nearly unheard of. Young ranked in the 76th percentile nationally in PnR action with 0.881 PPP; his passing was also stellar in these actions and where many of his 279 assists came from.
All things considered, Young had a better offensive season as a freshman than Curry did as a junior. That’s notable considering their similarities. And again, Young’s skill set translates considerably well to the NBA. That’s not just a cliché or buzzword: he’s a pick-and-roll star with 3-point range out to 30 feet; Young shot 37.1 percent on NBA 3-pointers a year ago. That’s…wild.
Here’s the part of the story that the first group is going to hate, and the other two will love. Young offers very, very little defensively. There’s no sugarcoating it. Young ranked in the 30th percentile defending the pick and roll, which is just as big an issue as his offense in those situations is a positive. Young was below average in isolation and defending jump shots. His 2.5 percent steal rate was just OK. The only real good news was he averaged 2.0 fouls per 40 minutes, though that could have been a result of the Sooners needing him to stay out of foul trouble to carry the offensive load. When Young was on the bench the Sooners were B-A-D.
He measured just shy of 6-foot-2 with a 6-foot-3 winspan at the NBA Draft Combine, the latter of which was the shortest of all players. He also weighed in at 177.8 pounds, the lightest of any player. He isn’t big, and he isn’t going to get much bigger. Even Curry measured taller than 6-foot-3 and 181 pounds. Though both are “undersized,” Young is tiny.
So he isn’t the perfect prospect. There’s a reason he isn’t in consideration as a top-3 pick. His deficiencies are clear and it’ll cost him on draft night. In a draft class littered with elite forward/center talent, Young might fall right into the lap of a team willing to overlook his struggles and fall in love with an elite level of offensive skill.
It could be the Bulls. Whether you believe Kris Dunn is just cracking the surface of his potential or is a 24-year-old with a limited ceiling, there’s room on any team’s roster for a player like Young. It’s entirely feasible to picture Dunn and Young playing alongside each other. If anything Young can cover up some of Dunn’s playmaking deficiencies, while Dunn can cover up Young’s defensive weaknesses. The two actually complement each other well. Think Isaiah Thomas in Boston playing next to Avery Bradley.
And as if he needed it, Lauri Markkanen becomes an even more versatile scorer with Young in the mix. Dunn wasn’t neccesarily a bad pick and roll player, but the thought of Young and Markkanen playing off each other is scary-good. The Bulls need shooters, and more importantly they need creators. Young accomplishes both. There’s not much room for him to play off the ball, but Dunn looks to be improving as a shooter in Year 3 and has the size to play on the wing with Zach LaVine. No, it’s not the perfect situation for Dunn, but the NBA is about getting the five best players on the floor.
Young has his deficiencies, and thus has his doubters. There isn’t a perfect prospect (again, other than Anthony Davis) and the NBA team that selects Young will need to hide him defensively and put him in the right situations offensively. But the upside here is far too great. He’s 19 years old and just put together arguably the most historic offensive season in NCAA history. He’s motivated, he’s built for the league, and he’s another piece of the puzzle toward getting the Bulls back in contention.