NBA fans have a nasty habit of tearing down players rather than celebrating their greatness. Kobe? Inefficient. Lebron? Only three rings. Jordan? Played against garbagemen. L-O-L. The same goes for the current generation of players, and few receive more undeserved scrutiny than Trae Young.
His journey is well-documented: out of this world hype at Oklahoma, a rough summer league, slow start to his rookie season, and quick ascent to All-Star in his 2nd season. So far this year, Trae is averaging 28/8, and his detractors can only cling to his subpar defense as an argument against him.
Well, bad news blog boys. Trae’s defense is getting better. Last season, only one other guard who played as many minutes had a worse defensive rating (Cleveland’s Collin Sexton – 118). No other guard who played as many minutes gave up a higher defensive field goal percentage than Trae (83.3%).
Beyond the stats, Young’s defense in his rookie season didn’t pass the eye test. He struggled staying in front of his opponents and was often hung up on the pick and roll. It was fair to be concerned if his defensive prowess would hamstring his bright future.
Trey Lewis roasted Trae Young with this behind-the-back move 👀 pic.twitter.com/WUQvaepskJ
— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) July 6, 2018
So far this season, he has improved, albeit slowly, on that side of the court. His defensive rating is about the same (115), but his minutes are up. And by that same measure, his opponents’ field goal percentage is way down (75.9%), steals are up (1.2 per game), tied for 4th in total charges drawn among guards (7). Even ESPN’s dubious RDPM is grading him out better.
His technique has improved, he’s getting caught flat-footed and reaching far less, while his maneuvering around pick and rolls looks so much smoother. He has quick feet and a knack for getting his hands in the passing lane. Most importantly, the heart and desire he plays with are contagious among his teammates.
To put this into a larger context, there are plenty of top guards in the league who started with lackluster defense. James Harden was forced to improve after becoming a meme, Steph Curry still has to be hidden, and several other elite guards get by without being lockdown defenders.
What those other elite players have is a nice surrounding cast. Trae is surrounded by rookies and players on rookie contracts. Defense isn’t singular – so much revolves around scheme, rotations, and help.
With all that said, the Hawks don’t need Trae to be Pat Beverley on that end of the court. Every player has their shortcomings. Young is 21 years old and built like Allen Iverson. With continued work and a better roster, he isn’t going to leave #NBAtwitter with much to hate on.