In just two seasons, Hawks point guard Trae Young has proven to not only to be the stat-sheet stuffer he was at Oklahoma, but also a true offensive mastermind that can lead a team full of washed-out veterans and inconsistent young guns to a respectable NBA offense.
While his 36% three-point shooting isn’t eye-popping, it becomes more impressive when you consider the incredible level of difficulty and sheer range on most of his attempts, and the fact that almost all of these attempts are pull-up jumpers in isolation situations.
Although he’s already a star, however, there is still another element of the game that Young will have to implement if he truly wants to legitimize those frequent Stephen Curry comparisons: playing off the ball.
As it is right now, Trae Young is a diet version of James Harden. He dribbles the air out of the ball most possessions, and while he’s an extremely gifted scorer and passer with the ball in his hands, he tends to stand and watch or hover towards half court whenever he doesn’t have the rock.
While this style of play has worked moderately for Houston, every spring it becomes clear that this stand-and-watch brand of basketball doesn’t transition well into the playoffs, regardless of how talented the primary ball-handler is (i.e. James Harden).
It’s understandable why Young would want to drift back and stay near the ball even when he doesn’t have it. Most, if not all of the other players on the floor with him at a time are not great ball-handlers, and that factors into why the Hawks are one of the leading turnover teams in the NBA. However, as players like Cam Reddish and Kevin Huerter get more comfortable as secondary playmakers, Young will have to learn how to cut and find open pockets in the defense when he doesn’t have the ball.
The ability to get open is what makes Steph Curry so different than the rest of the field. Yes, there are players who can see the floor and distribute like him (Steve Nash, Chris Paul, etc). And there are players who can shoot almost as well if not as well as him (Klay Thompson, Kyle Korver, J.J. Reddick). But what sets Curry apart is his ability to combine both of these traits so seamlessly. Of course, a lot of that is a product of great coaching. As soon as he arrived in the Bay Area, Steve Kerr revamped the entire Warriors scheme so that whenever Curry didn’t have the ball, he was constantly in motion, swerving around endless screen sets to where it’s impossible for the defense to keep up. The result was the engine behind the most unstoppable offense in NBA history.
Trae Young has all of the tools to replicate this scheme in Atlanta. While he may not have quite the shooting prowess as Curry, he definitely surpasses him in terms of passing and creative finishing around the rim. Currently, Young attempts just over one catch-and-shoot three-pointer per game. If the Hawks utilize him correctly, this number could increase to at least three or four, giving him more clean attempts which would boost his percentage as well as wearing out the defense.
It will take time, but if the right scheme is applied and Young buys into it, the result could be a player that’s Steve Nash with the ball in his hands and Reggie Miller without it. In other words: unstoppable.