NBA Draft: How Trae Young went from criticized OU product to critical Atlanta leader in only a year
Trae Young wanted so badly to be the first to welcome his newest teammate to Atlanta that he didn’t take time to put on a shirt.
During the NBA Draft on Thursday night, video surfaced of Young on FaceTime with Cam Reddish. Only a few minutes earlier, the Hawks had drafted the Duke forward with the No. 10 pick.
“Wanted to hit you up, be the first to call you, bro,” Young said as he walked around an unknown locale shirtless. “Welcome to the fam, man.”
That moment was a not-so-subtle sign — Young is the leader of this flock. The Oklahoma superstar turned Hawks point guard is the alpha. Even as the league buzzes about the strong, young core Atlanta has assembled — DeAndre Hunter and Reddish were both taken in the top 10 Thursday night — there is no question who the big bird is.
To think, a year ago, the only way lots of NBA pundits thought Young would be big was as a bust. He was dressed down in every way imaginable.
Now, he’s a star in the making, with or without a shirt.
Young is even a frontrunner for Rookie of the Year. He is a finalist along with Luka Doncic and DeAndre Ayton, though good money says it will be Doncic or Young who wins the award Monday night. Whatever happens, it doesn’t change the fact Young had a spectacular rookie season. Not solid. Not good. It was unmitigatedly marvelous.
For starters, Young averaged nearly 31 minutes a game, ranking among rookies behind only Doncic and Collin Sexton. What’s more, Young played in 81 games during the regular season, missing just one for rest. That kind of durability was a big question mark for many. Young was a wispy 6-foot-2, 180 pounds at OU, and even as he’s spent more time than ever lifting, conditioning and strengthening, he’s still listed with the same measurables by Atlanta.
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But his body more than stood up in the NBA as a rookie.
So did his game.
Again, there were questions about how Young’s skills would translate. Would his ball handling be good enough? What about his shot? And would he be able to work against bigger, brawnier defenders?
Yes, yes and yes.
Everyone heard about his mountain-top moments. In the first week of the season, for example, he had 35 points and 11 assists in a win against Cleveland. Since 2000, only two other rookies had 35-10 games: LeBron James and Steph Curry.
I seem to remember hearing more about them after their rookie years.
But Young wasn’t a flash-in-the-pan guy with only a couple big nights to his name. He averaged 19.1 points this past season, shooting 41.8 percent from the field and 32.4 percent from 3-point range. Those numbers compared extremely favorably to Doncic’s despite some arctic shooting by Young during the first half of the season.
How about 19.8 percent from 3 in the month of November?
Needless to say, Young made up for it.
But something that never suffered was his vision, his passing, his playmaking. He has an understanding of the game and his role in it that is evolved well beyond that of a rookie. Beyond that of most pro basketball players, too. That was evident by his assist numbers. Despite playing the toughest position as a rookie, Young averaged 8.1 assists a game, which wasn’t just the best among rookies.
It was fourth-best in the entire league, too.
Only Russell Westbrook, Kyle Lowry and Chris Paul had more assists per game than Young. That threesome at the top is the cream of the point guard crop. They are veteran. They are savvy.
Young was right there with them.
And he didn’t do anything at the expense of anything else. He passed and scored and directed and played a lot of minutes, and all of it was top-shelf.
Now, Atlanta is putting together a roster that could be scary good for years to come. In addition to Hunter (21 years old) and Reddish (19), the Hawks already had John Collins (21), Kevin Huerter (20) and, of course, Young (20).
Atlanta looks to be building toward a future that is big and bright — and there’s absolutely no doubt who the Hawks are building it around.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 405-475-4125 or email@example.com. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK or follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok.
NBA awards show
When: 8 p.m. Monday
Where: Barker Hangar, Los Angeles
TV: TNT (Cox 31)
LUKA VS. TRAE
Here’s a look at how the rookie seasons of Dallas shooting guard Luka Doncic and Atlanta point guard Trae Young compare. They are considered the front runners for NBA Rookie of the Year, which will be announced Monday night:
Category: Doncic, Young
Points per game: 21.2, 19.1
Field goal percentage: 42.7, 41.8
3-point percentage: 32.7, 32.4
Rebounds per game: 7.8, 3.7
Assists per game: 6.0, 8.1
Turnovers per game: 3.4, 3.8
Steals per game: 1.1, 0.9
Minutes per game: 32.2, 30.9
Team record: 33-49, 29-53