Atlanta Hawks: Why Trae Young Won’t Be a Bust

After his record-breaking freshman season at Oklahoma, Trae Young has been one of the most talked about prospects in basketball. He has also been one of the most polarizing figures in the sport.

To say that Trae Young simply played well at Oklahoma last year would be a massive understatement. Young led the nation in points per game (27.4) and assists per game (8.7). He was a consensus first team All-American, won the USWBA National Freshman of the Year award, and was a unanimous selection for the All-Big 12 First Team. Oklahoma was ranked as high as fourth in the country last season, thanks to Young’s scoring and distributing. He scored over 40 points on four separate occasions. He also came within three assists of a triple-double against TCU in his best all-around game of the year.

However, for all of the positive qualities Young showed at Oklahoma, there is another side to his game. The Sooners had a month to forget in February, losing seven straight games. Young had some of his worst games of the season during this stretch, including a 3-13 showing against Kansas and an eight-turnover game against Baylor. Young also led the Big 12 and the country as a whole in usage rate and turnovers. Questions have come up about his defensive ability, and the numbers seem to support them. Young’s defensive box plus/minus and defensive win shares were decidedly average while with the Sooners.

Despite Young’s flaws, the positives outweigh the negatives. Given time to develop and the right environment, Young should be able to flourish in the NBA.

To be frank, his output in college is something we haven’t seen in a long time. According to Basketball-Reference, Young is the first player in 20 years to average at least 27 points and seven assists per game in Division 1 college basketball. He is also one of only two players since 1992 to average those numbers while taking 10 or more threes per game. To add context to those numbers, the other player to fit that criteria played at a mid-major. Young did it in the Big 12, arguably the toughest conference in the country. This combination of scoring and playmaking hadn’t been seen at the highest level of college basketball in nearly 30 years, and it came from a freshman.

History Is In Trae Young’s Favor

Trae Young is often compared to two players: Stephen Curry and Jimmer Fredette. The former is intended as a compliment, the latter as an insult. When the three are compared, Young’s college output appears to be more in line with Curry’s than Fredette’s. While Fredette was an incredible scorer in college (one of the greatest in the history of college basketball), he was never an exceptional playmaker. In four years at BYU, Fredette never led his conference in assists, despite having a career usage rate of 35.6 percent. Curry led the Southern Conference in assists in his third and final season at Davidson, and Young, of course, did so last season.

Like Curry, and unlike Fredette, Trae Young will likely be given a legitimate opportunity to adjust to the NBA game in his rookie season. The Hawks have reportedly traded Dennis Schroder, meaning that Young will likely be the first choice at point guard.

Stephen Curry played 36.2 minutes per game in his rookie season, and the trial by fire allowed him to showcase his talents. Curry averaged 17.5 points and 5.9 assists per game. He made the 2009-10 All Rookie team and was voted as the Western Conference’s Rookie of the Month three times. For comparison, Jimmer Fredette played 18.6 minutes in his rookie season for the Kings. He averaged 7.6 points per game, which would be the most he would ever average on an NBA roster. Playing time is critical to a young player’s development, and Trae Young will likely get as much or more than Curry did in the early stages of his career.

Young faced a lot of double and triple teams as the season went on at Oklahoma. It seemed that teams were content to make defenders commit to him and let the rest of Young’s teammates shoulder the offensive load. The strategy worked, as the Sooners slid out of the top 25 and into the bubble of the NCAA tournament. With the level of talent in the league being more spread out (and Young no longer expected to be the sole catalyst for an entire team’s offense), Young should find himself with more open opportunities. In an interview on ESPN’s First Take, Young himself explained how he may be able to get more open looks.

If Trae Young is presented with the keys to the Hawks offense and is surrounded with decent talent, history shows us that good things will happen. Talents like this don’t come around very often, and the Hawks could very well have the last laugh if everything goes according to plan.

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