Whether it was the early comparisons to Stephen Curry, or Atlanta inexplicably trading away Luka Dončić to acquire him – expectations have been heavy on Trae Young for quite some time now. Young’s potential was obvious his rookie season, but he was largely inefficient.
It was not until his sophomoric effort that his true potential became more apparent. His shooting improved, and he became a consistent offensive force for the Atlanta Hawks. His pinpoint passing remains potentially his largest asset and is particularly dangerous when combined with his shooting.
Where Trae can still improve is on defense and limiting turnovers. His lack of size means he will always be somewhat of a defensive liability, but he can certainly limit turnovers while still becoming an elite distributor.
Clearly, he is not a pure point guard in the traditionalist sense of the term. Young’s threat on offense stems from his ability to score from almost anywhere on the court, the fact that he is a top level passer allows him to stay one step ahead of the defense.
With elite ball-handling skills, Trae can certainly pick his spots, though his size limits his ability to finish consistently around the rim. He does compensate for this somewhat with an array of floaters and runners rather than forcing the action.
Trae Young has stated that both Steve Nash and Steph Curry have influenced his game, and the comparisons are not without merit. However, he plays more like Allen Iverson [albeit with more range] than either of those players.
Young’s particular skill-set is also not necessarily conducive to being the best player on an NBA championship level team. Playing alongside a mobile and hyper athletic big [think Mitchell Robinson] is an easy way to maximize Young’s impact. This would give him both a reliable pick-and-roll partner as well as an alley-oop target.
Unless Trae can get his shooting to the level of, or comparable to Steph Curry’s, he would need to play second fiddle to a more versatile player to ever win an NBA championship. This is possible but not necessarily plausible.
A major consideration that hinders Young’s ability to be the best player on a championship team is his need for the ball to be effective. A defensively deficient, undersized, high-usage point guard severely limits the ceiling of a team.
To re-visit the Steph Curry comparison, part of what makes Curry so effective is his ability to operate without the basketball. Curry can be a scoring threat with or without the ball and/or even play pure point. The fact that he is the greatest shooter in NBA history is just part of his game.
None of this is to say that Young needs to become a Curry clone to be effective. In fact, it is not even a realistic goal. The good news is that Young is a sensational player at the very tender age of 22, he will likely make better decisions with the ball as his game matures.
Young cannot change his size, but he can learn to incorporate wily defensive tricks into his game to minimize the extent to which he his a defensive liability. With the right pieces around him, Young’s ceiling is potentially winning multiple scoring titles.
Luka Dončić is already a much better player and can affect the game in more areas that Young, so the trade will always be a mistake even if Young maxes out his potential. This being said, he will be a superstar in the NBA for years to come.
Clint is an avid fan of the Los Angeles Lakers, and contributed to various sports publications prior to his work with Upside Hoops.