Because Luka Doncic has busted on the scene at an All-Star level, it’s almost as if everyone forgot that most rookies – especially those who have not been playing pro-basketball for the past three years – experience their lumps. Trae Young has dealt with his fair share since starting off red-hot, averaging 19.1 points and 6.6 assists on his way to Rookie of the Month in October.
November was not nearly as kind. The former Sooner lost his shooting touch, which is something that probably hasn’t happened to him much – if at all – during his basketball career. He shot just 35.5% from the field and a dreadful 19.8% from three – not so great for a player who came in with Steph Curry comparisons.
But Trae hasn’t shied away from such comparisons. In fact, he’s embraced them.
In an interview with Bleacher Report, Young was asked if comparing him to Curry was unfair. He answered, “No,” and went on to talk about how he and Curry are more than just shooters – they are playmakers.
“He’s a guy who makes plays,” Young explained. “Obviously, he’s the best shooter of all time. But he’s not just strictly a shooter. When I think of a shooter, I think of JJ Redick. I think of a guy who just runs off screens and strictly just shoots. That’s how I look at it. Steph’s the best shooter of all time, but I think he’s overall just a playmaker.”
Young is confident, but he’s also not wrong. Among rookies all-time, Young is one of the best playmakers we have ever seen. Let’s take a look at his rookie season and compare it to arguably the best playmaker of our generation, Chris Paul.
Young (2018-2019): 16.5 points, 40.9% from the field, 29.5% from three-point range, and 7.3 assists
Paul (2005-2006): 16.1 points, 43.0% from the field, 28.2% from three-point range and 7.8 assists
Pretty similar, right? If Young’s season ended today he would become just the sixth point guard since the 2001-2002 season to average over seven assists per game (Ben Simmons, Lonzo Ball, John Wall, Ramon Sessions, and Chris Paul), and his veteran teammate, Vince Carter, thinks he can be even better.
“I want him to average 16 or 17 points and 12 assists,” Carter said. “That’s my challenge to him, is to get double-digit assists. He has the ability. I wouldn’t challenge him if he didn’t have that in him. But he has it. He makes plays for himself, and he makes plays for others. Some people say he’s a score-first point guard, and some people say he’s a facilitator who can score. He has the ability to be on either side of the spectrum.”
That’s high praise from someone who has been around as long as Carter has.
Young’s confidence, swagger, and willingness to be compared to an All-Time great is something that needs to be seen in a player for an organization to invest so much in. Which is exactly what the Hawks did on draft night when they swapped Luka Doncic for Trae Young and a protected 2019 first-round pick, opening up Young to even more criticism early on his career. No matter how you think each of these players’ careers will pan out, it was almost a guarantee Doncic would have a better start to his NBA career given his previous professional experience.
And Doncic has been the better player thus far, but that has not stopped Young from the challenge of one day being the better player down the road. When asked in an interview with ESPN’s ‘The Jump’ if he will be the better player 5-10 years down the road, Young responded, “In my eyes, it’s not a question. It’s going to be me. But that’s just the competitive nature in my blood, and I think that’s the no-brainer with me.”
So it should come as no surprise that Young has been able to shake off a rough month of November and respond with his best basketball to date. In December, Young average 15.8 points on 43.1% shooting from the field and 34.7% from three-point range while dishing out 7.0 assists per contest. He’s been even more spectacular in January, averaging 18.7 points and 7.2 assists per. And if you narrow it down a little further – to the last three games – he has put up 26.3 points and 8.0 assists a game.
Young is well on his way to another Rookie of the Month award and looking more and more confident by the day. The odd thing about the start to his career is that most of his struggles have come from his poor shooting touch, which has been a strength of his at all levels coming into the NBA. There’s no way he continues to shoot below 30% from three, and down the road, he could be sniffing 40%.
There have been few – if any – rookies that have had to shoulder the amount of pressure that Young has. It has not been perfect, but then again, whose rookie season is. With every passing day, Young is making that trade for Luka Doncic look a little bit better. In five years, there is undoubtedly a chance, Hawks’ fans could be rejoicing the same move they have been complaining about for the last three months.