Noth­ing is com­ing easy for Young in his rookie sea­son

The Telegraph (Macon) - - Sports - BY CAN­DACE BUCKNER

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.

JOHN BAZEMORE AP

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.

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