Let’s wind the clocks back to March 2008.
As Davidson took the nation by storm in the 2008 NCAA tournament, Stephen Curry was the leading man. With a flurry of incredible shotmaking and dazzling dribbling, the sophomore Curry was something that no one had seen in college basketball since perhaps Pistol Pete Maravich. In their run to the Elite Eight, Curry averaged 32 (!!) points per game. He was magnificent, unstoppable.
Davidson of course lost to Kansas in the Elite Eight, but it didn’t matter. As recent NBA history shows, the transformation of professional basketball as we know it had already begun. You can thank the 6’3’’, 180 pound skinny sharpshooter from Davidson for that.
Remember that height and weight. It’s going to be important in just a minute.
Fast forward a decade, and that transformation of basketball has given us Trae Young, who was just as spectacular in his freshman season at Oklahoma as Curry was in his sophomore and junior seasons at Davidson. However, Young did something that Curry never did—lead the nation in scoring (27.4) and assists (8.7). He also did this at just 19 years old, whereas Curry didn’t become nationally relevant until his sophomore year.
The similarities between their games are well-documented. The scoring, shooting range, and shot creation are all there. But there are differences as well. Even at 19, Trae Young is a far more complete player than Steph was in college. Over his three years at Davidson, Curry only averaged 3.7 assists per game and was much more of a shooting guard than a point guard. He had to greatly develop his game to become an NBA point guard. Young, on the other hand, has incredible court vision and should be an excellent floor general in the NBA.
All things considered, you would think a young player who is as talented as Young would be a top-five pick in the draft. So why are many analysts, including our own Jack Noonan, projecting him to go in the latter part of the lottery, and in some cases, outside the lottery?
Now let’s be clear here: Trae Young has definite weaknesses that could limit him at the next level. So let’s address two of the main ones.
Size (and by extension, defense)
The people at NBAdraft.net (and basically everyone else) believe that Young’s lack of size will hurt him defensively in the NBA. Young is listed at 6’2’’, 180 pounds. His height alone is not a problem, since the average NBA point guard is between 6’2’’ and 6’3’’. And it’s worth noting that he has the same weight that Curry had and is heavier (and an inch taller) than Mike Conley when he came into the league.
In reality, when people say that that Young’s size concerns them, what they really mean is his wingspan. Most NBA players have a longer wingspan than their height, but Young does not. Length matters, especially on the defensive end in the NBA, and the concern is that Young’s lack of length will cause him to struggle.
However, if some of the NBA’s top point guards are any indication, length also isn’t everything. Kyrie Irving (6’3) has a listed wingspan of just 6’3.5’’. Chris Paul (6’0’’) has a wingspan of just 6’4”. Tony Parker (not a top point guard anymore, but you get the point) at 6’2” has one of 6’4”. Stephen Curry himself (6’3’’) has one of just 6’3.5’’. And that’s not even to mention guys like Isaiah Thomas and Ty Lawson, who became very good players despite their lack of size.
In short, the concerns about Young’s size are obviously overblown. He may technically have a shorter wingspan than those players listed, but it’s not significant enough to make a real difference, especially compared to his offensive capabilities. He will likely struggle on defense in the NBA just like he did at Oklahoma, but it won’t keep him from reaching his potential. The NBA is full of great point guards who struggle defensively at times such as Kyrie Irving, Damian Lillard, and Russell Westbrook (yes, I went there). An NBA weight room as well as decreased responsibility on offense should only help him improve in that area.
Trae Young led the nation in several categories, but not all of them were good things. He averaged 5.2 turnovers per game, by far the most in the country. The next closest player averaged 4.1 turnovers. Needless to say, Young didn’t do a good job of taking care of the basketball.
The concern is whether he can efficiently run an NBA offense if he is so careless with the ball. However, context matters, and it is significant to properly analyze Young’s game.
First, he had the highest usage of any player in the NCAA since the KenPom era began. He had a usage percentage of 37.1. To put that in further perspective, James Harden, who has the ball more than anyone else in the NBA, has a usage percentage of 36.3.
So yeah, I guess you could say that Oklahoma liked to put the ball in his hands. Oklahoma also had the third fastest offense in the country, which would only increase his turnover numbers.
Although turnovers are inherently a bad thing, high turnover numbers have become a characteristic of many of the NBA’s elite. The reason for this is that since they are stars, they have the ball in their hands more often. Harden, DeMarcus Cousins, LeBron James, and Westbrook have all averaged over four turnovers this year. For the 2016-17 season, Westbrook and Harden averaged 5.4 and 5.7 turnovers respectively. He is also held to a higher standard than other recent prospects on this front, for some reason- take this, for example, from SB Nation’s Knicks blog Posting and Toasting -
...Young’s turnover percentage (18%) is virtually identical to Dennis Smith Jr. (17%) and Ball’s (18%) from a year ago and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s (18%) this season...
To be sure, Young will need to take better care of the ball at the next level. But it’s important to understand that his abnormally high turnovers numbers reflect that he has the ball in his hands more than anyone else. When he comes into the NBA, he won’t have the role that he had at Oklahoma. And as a result of that, those numbers will come down.
Just Draft Him
Chris Wallace (or John Hollinger or whoever makes the darn draft decisions nowadays), I need you to do this for me. Make me the happiest (and most insufferable) NBA fan.
But in all seriousness, the Memphis Grizzlies should highly consider Young if they have the third or fourth pick. Luka Doncic is still my number one pick, and Deandre Ayton is a close second. After those two players, I would take Young over anyone else. And with Mike Conley’s recent injury history, drafting his successor is something that the Grizzlies need to consider.
Trae Young has the potential to be a generational superstar. His scoring and shooting ability are the culmination of basketball’s revolution that Stephen Curry began over a decade ago. His playmaking and court vision will keep him from being just another pure scorer or gunner. Yes, there are real concerns, but they should not stop him from becoming an excellent NBA player.
The last time the Grizzlies passed on a skinny college superstar with unlimited range, they lived to regret it for the next decade. Let’s hope they don’t make the same mistake again.