Previously on Next Gen:
As the NBA's pantheon of top players evolves, longstanding greats fall off and the most driven challengers ascend. The last of the 90's all-timers are nearly gone—hyperlink tribute to Dirk Nowitzki and Vince Carter must be given. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul have gone from we-got-next to top of the mountain to hitting their twilight (LeBron excluded, but cyborgs don't 100% count).
Giannis Antetokounmpo, Anthony Davis, and Joel Embiid are breaking the doors to the pantheon down. James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant are well-established neighbors of King James. So, it's time to start identifying who's next, to evaluate the rookies and sophomores who could one day have an argument as a top 10 player in the NBA. As the Dubs go through the season, we'll look at their opponents and pick out potential candidates for greatness. We'll evaluate these Next Gen-ers so far and compare their game to past players, prognosticate how they'll fare against the Warriors, and offer projections on where they'll be in 5 years.
Trae Young, G, Atlanta Hawks (Rookie)
18.5/8.2/3.3 on 42/28/80 shooting splits
Who He Plays Like
Steve Nash and Steph are obvious comps, but he's quicker than Nash and may actually be a better passer than Steph was at this early stage in his career. I'd say he's closer to a Mark Price, who I never saw play, except, of course, this version:
I don't know if I'm more surprised there's NBA Jam gameplay footage on YouTube, or that I assumed there would be NBA Jam gameplay footage on YouTube. But when you look at the tape, Price's playmaking, quickness and shooting look a lot like Trae Young.
One-Word Description of His Game
New Nickname Pitch
Perennial All-Star ( high), Perennial Sixth Man of the Year Contender (low)
When We'll See Him
Tuesday, 11/13 at 7:30pm
How He's Playing Right Now
Trae Young is going through some ups and downs as of late. The highly touted NCAA flamethrower shot 42% against Charlotte, going 0-7 from deep with 10 assists—and 6 turnovers. That's a -15 plus/minus for the game. The next game against the lowly Knicks he was a little more efficient as a ball handler (only 2 turnovers) but shot a dreadful 34% from the field and 1-7 from deep. It got worse in Detroit: 0-3 from three and 5 assists against 6 turnovers for a -18. Just a tough one for Young that included plays on offense like this:
And possessions on defense where he was consistently a step behind, like this one:
It's easy to pick and choose a young player's good and bad plays in early season games like these. In the future, instead of throwing up the weak floater, will Young hesitate, penetrate and set up a teammate? Maybe. After gaining experience, will he go over a screen and force the ball handler to make a decision instead of letting him dribble into an open shot? Hopefully.
Now, he definitely rebounded against the Lakers two days later. This was a glimpse-game. A flash-forward. He's had a few already. Remember, the Hawks just aren't very good. In the previous episode of Next Gen, I was singing about SGA from the mountaintop, and with good reason (see the top of this post). But he has real, proven NBA players on his team. Trae has Kent Bazemore, a bunch of other journeymen and potential-driven young guys, and this ageless blessing to mankind:
Sorry, back to the glimpse-game. While the Hawks lost, Young put on a performance that blended wizardry, efficiency and guts. Here's one of my favorite Trae Young plays:
It's not throwing the ball between Javale McGee's legs—its throwing the ball between Javale McGee's legs with such perfect fundamentals from start to finish. Off the inbounds play, he runs Lonzo Ball off the Alex Len screen. He then uses a quick hesitation, followed by a subtle shot fake to draw both Ball and McGee before dropping the crisp bounce pass between McGee's legs to Len at the front of the rim. Simple, yet flashy.
As noted earlier, the comparisons to Steph make a little sense on paper, but we may have to give Young a slight edge as a playmaker over rookie Steph. Watch Young methodically use the weird double-slip screen from Alex Len and Vince, draw the defense, then kick it to a wide open Taurean Prince for three.
Then, in crunch time, he takes a dribble handoff, draws the super-long-armed double team of Tyson Chandler and Brandon Ingram, and seamlessly drops it to Vince for the go-ahead dunk.
That vision and coolness in the face of defensive pressure actually reminds me of John Stockton. Really impressive.
Of course, Young's calling card is his pure stroke. He's shooting under 30% from deep right now, but that won't last (those 0-fer games are outliers he's getting out of his system) And he has the handles and quickness to get himself wide open looks with ease. Exhibit A:
That's a fair Stephen Curry homage. This meandering, probing drive also evokes shades of Steph:
He has this playful dribble going, runs his man through the pick perfectly to get McGee on a switch, then casually brings him out to the arc. Young hits him with the lightning-quick step-back, no big deal. We see you.
At the end of the game, he has a chance to win it with this dusting of Ingram and drive to the hoop.
Chandler barely gets the block, but I think Young made the right play here. You know he's got this in his memory banks already, and is wondering whether he should have put a little more loft on the tear-drop or kicked it to the shooter in the corner. But, the fact that he created an easy shot for himself against a long, athletic defender in a game-deciding situation should have Hawks fans excited.
When he's on, the comparisons to the all-time great shooting point guards make sense. He's had some special offensive games as the best player—as a rookie—on maybe the least developed roster in the NBA. That's no easy task, especially for a freshly minted 20 year old.
At his best, Trae does show glimpses of Steph-like hegemony—creative finishing in the lane, unlimited range, elite ball handling and near-precognitive playmaking. Defense will always be an issue at his size. Then again, that's what they said about Steph and he's evolved into an above-average defender. We'll see how much work he puts into his body and to learning team defensive concepts. At the end of the day, putting effort and concentration into defense is really all you need to be solid for your size.
How He Matches Up Against the Warriors
It's a shame we won't get to see Steph vs. Trae this time around, but the Warriors do head east to Atlanta in December. Quin Cook will draw the first assignment, but Young will see waves of long-armed, extra-grumpy Dubs tonight. Crossing up Brandon Ingram is one thing. Dribbling against the likes of Klay, Draymond and Iggy is something else entirely. I'm betting Klay especially will have a little extra juice tonight. Young has some sneaky fireball potential, given that he's in Oracle and knows Steph is watching. But, I expect the Warriors to come out with the no-nonsense hats on after blowing last night's comeback against the Clips. Look for a few odes to Steph in the form of 28 footers and perfect dimes. But look for a lot of turnovers and a double-digit loss too.
Where He'll Be in 5 Years
Don't be surprised if he leads the league in assists. Don't be surprised if he's already got multiple All-Star appearances. Don't be surprised if the Hawks make the playoffs in...2021 (I can't get too crazy).
And...Revisiting The Nickname Pitch
Lil' Traeyne is beautiful, how has this not caught on already?