Nothing is coming easy for Young in his rookie season
Trae Young howled in agony and held his lower back. Nothing has come easy for Young, the Atlanta Hawks point guard and No. 5 pick in last summer’s NBA draft, but as he squirmed onto his stomach, moving the State Farm Arena crowd to silence, his start in the NBA looked downright painful.
During Wednesday night’s match up against the Washington Wizards, Young elevated for a 3-pointer, a shot for which he’s developed quite a reputation, and felt contact by guard Austin Rivers. Young tried to ensure a foul by overselling the contact, responding as if he was being suplexed off an invisible top rope then crashing without a cushion to the hardwood.
Later, his coach predicted he would feel it in the morning. Young didn’t need to wait that long – after the Hawks’ 131-117 loss to the Wizards, he showed reporters his puffy right elbow. But during this rookie season, while playing the lead role in the Hawks’ latest rebuild and finding himself atop every opponents’ scouting report, the damage to his shooting percentage has been even more apparent.
“I think the rookie wall is
getting hit right now,” said Young, after going 4 for 13 with only four 3point attempts for 14 points against Washington. “Hopefully I can break through and get some.”
This week, Young was honored as the Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month for games played in October and November. Young posted averages of 15.6 points and 7.6 assists and compiled more point/assist doubledoubles (seven) than any other first-year player in the NBA. A closer inspection of those numbers, however, reveals just how difficult the transition has been for Young, the likable undersized guard with unlimited range.
Although he rejects the comparisons, Young’s confidence is Steph Curry-esque. He takes deep shots – he leads the NBA with 47 attempts from a distance of at least 28 feet – as if they’re layups. Against the Wizards, Young needed two dribbles in a transition play before rising and draining a 28-footer in the first quarter. When he connects, those shots show up nightly on social media as highlights. They also attract the attention of rivals.
“The new 3 is 30 feet,” coach Scott Brooks said. “He hasn’t made as many as he’s going to make but any given game, he can knock down a bunch of them. It’s disgusting how many good shooters are (in) this league.”
The 3s are both his masterpiece and his stumbling block. In the first 23 games of his NBA career, the span of October and November, Young needed 14.6 attempts a game to reach his scoring total and shot 37.8 percent from the floor and just 24.8 percent from the 3-point arc.
“Right now all of his looks are difficult,” Rivers said. “Everything he does is difficult. Part of that’s because people come here and he has a target on his back.”
Young may feel it necessary to launch from deep on the court because that’s where he’ll find his only breathing room. The majority of defenders Young faces go over the pick, limiting his space. He has the third lowest shooting percentage in the league (34.9) on attempts after seven or more dribbles, which means he has to work hard just to get up a shot.
“I mean, it’s crazy. It’s crazy. My shooting percentage is so bad right now and teams are still pressing up on me just like I was shooting 80 percent,” Young said with a hint of a smile. “It just shows a sign of respect for the level of shooting ability and what I can do outside the arc.”
On Wednesday, Rivers started in place of John Walland drew the Young defensive assignment.
“He’s 23 percent but I treat him like he’s (expletive) Steph or Dame (Lillard) or whoever’s out there. So I picked him up at half court. That’s why he wasn’t able to get any 3s off really,” Rivers said.
Hawks guard Trae Young drives against Wizards forward Kelly Oubre Jr. on Wednesday. Young is having a difficult time against defenders who seldom give him an open shot.