March Madness has concluded and NBA Draft preparation will soon reach full bore. The Sixers will have a pick in the lottery if the Lakers pick is either #1 or #6+. It’s never too early to speculate who the Sixers could look at. To do so, Mike Gribanov (@mikegrib8) of The Stepien & the Amateur Hour Draft Podcast joined me to talk about Draft prospect Trae Young.
Kevin F. Love: What are some of the more basic notes on Trae Young? Is he an NBA point guard or more of a 2 guard? What level is his athleticism at? What’s his physical profile?
Mike Gribanov: Young is of course known for the ridiculously voluminous role he has taken on as a freshman at Oklahoma. He lead the country in points and assists per game, as well as usage and assists percentage. Despite that, he was able to keep up an impressive 58.6 true shooting percentage. There is an argument to be made that among all-time freshmen, Young just completed the most impressive individual season in the history of NCAA basketball. Both the assist numbers and film indicate that he should have no problem playing point guard at the next level. While Young almost always had the ball in his hands in Oklahoma’s system, he played unselfishly and wasn’t a ball stopper, keeping his head up as soon as he received the ball in the back court, always looking for ways to find teammates for easy baskets. According to kenpom.com, Oklahoma was the fourth fastest paced team in the country this past season. Young’s heady and accurate outlets in early offense were a big reason why, some of them came even after made baskets and often found teammates streaking ahead for open lay ups or wide open spot up three pointers. Young already has almost every pass in the book at his disposal, and doesn’t need to pick up the dribble and pivot to find shooters open on the weak side when the defense collapses in the paint trying to take away penetration or traps him in the pick-n-roll. He even flashed a lefty cross court hook pass off the dribble at times, one of the toughest but most important passes that modern point guards are asked to make in the modern NBA.
On the other hand, Young is far from an elite athlete or physical talent, especially when thinking about athletic ability in the traditional terms of quick twitch explosive leaping and straight line speed. However, Young is really quick in small spaces and has incredible balance, being able to change direction and speeds at the drop of a dime. His in and out dribbles are absolutely deadly to opposing defenders, especially in open court situations and he even pulled out “The Shammgod” at times last season, which totally froze and flustered defenders. While his endless range as a shooter and ability to knock down deep perimeter pull ups is considered his biggest strength and most important skill, I think one could argue that his passing is just as impressive and valuable.
Young has just average physical “measurables” for an NBA PG and at times he seems to lack the necessary physical strength to match up with bigger, thicker framed guards. Jevon Carter’s physical approach to defense seemed to bother Young in their match ups, although Trae still managed to put up impressive numbers against West Virginia. Nevertheless, it is worth mentioning that lack of strength and vertical leaping really holds Young back as a finisher. Defenders had to constantly be on top of Young as soon as he crossed the half court line and along with his crafty ball handling and lithe agility, that allowed him to get in the paint almost at will. Yet, once there, he was often unable to finish and according to Synergy Sports, shot just 46.5% when getting “to basket” out of Isolations, Pick and Rolls and Spot Ups. His best bets to score were either attempts at drawing foul calls from the refs or runners that he shot before getting too deep in the paint. He showed some mastery in both of those categories but still, the finishing is worth noting as his biggest offensive weakness.
KFL: What part of Trae’s game do you point at and say, “That there is why he’ll be a successful NBA player.” In other words, what are his strengths? Are there flaws in Trae’s game? What weaknesses, specifically, do you see NBA teams targeting?
MG: I spoke on his offensive strengths and weaknesses in the above answer, which I think went on entirely too long, so I’ll try to be a little quicker and more to the point here. Defensively, he is bad and unlikely to ever be anything better than below average. It’s tough to make a big impact on that end at Young’s size in general and he hasn’t necessarily shown the effort, intensity and awareness to beat the odds his size sets against him. For example, only two point guards had a real plus minus above two in the NBA this year and the bottom 21 players in DRPM are guards. To be fair, Young does play an extremely high usage role offensively and because of that, at times it was obvious he was “resting” on defense, trying to stay out of foul trouble and save himself for the offensive end. I won’t get in depth but some of the plays that occurred because of his obsession with not fouling and avoiding physical contact, were hilariously inadequate. Several teams were able to effectively attack Oklahoma by simply setting up their offensive sets in a way that targeted Young and forced him to defend one on one. There is some positive flashes and when Young played defense with effort, his quick change of direction and lateral agility shined through in certain on ball situations. He is also clearly a player with incredibly high IQ and feel, so at times he was able to create events and deflections that most young college players wouldn’t be able to replicate. Still, I’d be surprised if Young isn’t a net negative defensively and could see him as one of the worst defensive players in the entire league if his development was to corrode on that end.
KFL: Is his game NBA ready, or does he have a long way to go in terms of development, i.e. is he a project? Do you expect him to be a plus player right away?
MG: There is a sort of platitude in pro basketball that “big men develop late” or something along those lines. However, from my experience, it is actually point guards that often struggle early on but make significant improvements as their career progresses. Running an NBA offense ain’t easy! That means it’s tough to guarantee a rookie lead guard being a positive player and I don’t necessarily expect Young to be a plus as soon as he steps foot on an NBA court. At the same time, he is far from a project. After all, he is one of the most offensively skilled players his age, maybe ever. Still, as good as De’Aaron Fox and Dennis Smith were in college, they’ve struggled to produce in a valuable manner during their rookie seasons. Young is better than either player at the same age but he isn’t THAT MUCH better. A positive season is possible, especially if we’re talking within the context of the Sixers and the talent Young would have surrounding him in that scenario but it’s certainly not guaranteed.
KFL: In 5 or 6 years, what’s more likely in your opinion, Trae Young is: a) a perennial All-Star, b) an average starter, or c) is rotation, spark-of-the-bench type player? There’s been Trae Young comps to guys with shooting range like Steph Curry, Jimmer Fredette, etc. Are these justified? Any comps you prefer over those two, past or present?
MG: In some ways, I see Young as a high risk, high reward prospect. I think there is a world out there where Young takes over the NBA and is the next Steph Curry but I also see an outcome where Young struggles to create space and isn’t efficient offensively, while being a huge detriment to his team on the defensive end. As I mentioned in the very start of the first answer, Young is a historically great college player and guys that are that dominant against their age group are usually the ones that continue to dominate as they get older. It’s hard to see someone who is this good, failing completely. Yet, I had a similar sentiment toward Trey Burke in college, who was in my eyes the best player in the country when he carried Michigan in to the NCAA championship game and went on to be drafted in the top 10. Relatively small (Young is 6’2 but has a poor wingspan and a thin frame) and not traditionally athletic PGs, often don’t live up to their college dominance, Fredette and Burke being two recent examples of that downside. I wouldn’t say that I’m unsure whether Young is a boom or a bust, it’s more like I am sure that he could be either one.
KFL: Where do you have Trae Young on your personal big board? What about relative to his position?
MG: I’m going to be working on the latest edition of my 2018 big board over the next week or so but I’ll probably have Young somewhere between second and fifth and as the top ranked point guard.
KFL: Even with Markelle Fultz finally returning, the Sixers could still probably use a guard off the bench. Could Trae be that player? Can you see him fitting in with this Sixers’ roster?
MG: If I’m the GM of the Sixers, Young is probably number two on my board in this class. As I mentioned, I might have him second overall either way but with the Sixers front court being so set, I think he’d easily be the best fit for their roster outside Luka Doncic. I think Young and Fultz could even play together, next to Simmons, Covington and Embiid. The front court could make up for the questionable defense of the back court and the back court will provide the necessary floor spacing for Embiid and Simmons to go to work. Young could hypothetically be a spark plug off the bench also but I think if you draft him, you are hoping he becomes much more than just that.
KFL: Let’s stir the pot here a bit. Who would you rather have, if you could only have one, on this Sixers team: Trae Young or Markelle Fultz?
MG: Oh man, that’s tough. If this was the Markelle Fultz I knew going into the 2017 draft, I’d give him a slight edge but after all that’s happened over this past season, I might actually lean Young. That is if I HAD TO choose one. That being said, as I mentioned earlier, I think they should be able to play together if the Sixers were to end up drafting Young.
Thanks a ton to Mike for joining me. You can follow Mike on Twitter @mikegrib8 to stay on top of all his Draft coverage. Mike writes over at The Stepien, and I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again: The Stepien is my go-to source for Draft coverage; no one does it better. Don’t forget to check out Mike’s podcast, the Amateur Hour Draft Podcast for all the Draft talk your ear holes desire.