Kobe Bryant

Atlanta Hawks

          Trae Young – Atlanta: It took a long and windy text exchange with my friend Brad Botkin, an ascending sportswriter and television commentator for CBS Sports, to finally take some of the emotion out of my argument against Trae Young.  Brad, who has much more of a macro argument for Young explained, “the kid can shoot and pass like crazy.  That’s the only thing I’m sure of.” 

            So, my final argument is this:  Trae Young’s style is divorced from the ingredients necessary to consistently win basketball games and, maybe more importantly, if Young’s style is not dramatically altered, it will repel teammates and cause friction in the team’s internal dynamics.

            There was a brief moment after three days of the Las Vegas Summer league where the Atlanta Hawks led the league in three statistical categories.  John Collins was leading in points per game with 30.  Young led in assists with 11, and Tyler Dorsey randomly led the league in rebounds and minutes per game. 

            Ironically, for about the past nine months I’ve been harping about how, when Young was at Oklahoma and led the Nation in points and assists per game (which is incredible), Oklahoma could not consistently win basketball games with Young performing in such a communally bankrupt approach.  As maligned as his teammates were by the media (some justified) and as complicit as Lon Kruger was in not finding ways to connect Young’s talent to his teammates, Young was not without blame.  Young could have easily sacrificed 3-5 points per game, and even a few assists per game in order to bring out a higher functionality and connectivity with his teammates.

            Look – I’ve been on Young’s case Hard, and riding him for, what I still believe are Very Specific Reasons – reasons which involve basketball’s inner-secrets and embedded spirituality.  Earlier today, I briefly watched a “Details” segment Kobe Bryant did on Young, where Kobe spent the majority of the segment breaking down a ball-screen scenario Young performed in the Utah summer league.  Although Young made the wrong read on this particular ball-screen, the play was an illustration of what I have felt ever since I began watching Young:  He has the physical ability to be an incredibly effective guard, but he chooses to rather be fed by a pre-existing external narrative about how he should play, or an internal narrative about how he wants to play. Both are misleading, and a lot of his play throughout summer league is consistent with this notion. 

             Overall, based on the shooting numbers, Young was outrageously inefficient – but so are many young players in their first summer league experiences.  Young ended up shooting about 30% (30-99) from the field.  In the first few days of summer league, the only field goal attempts Young was converting were incredibly tough two-point field goals in the paint from isolated dribble penetration.  He showed the ability to finish tough plays, but it also foreshadowed how unsustainable those finishes will be in the league.  From a defensive perspective, that’s what you want to force Young to do.  Make physically difficult two’s in the paint.

            Throughout summer league, Young’s shot selection was consistently questionable at best, and usually divorced from the current flow of the game or possession.  His shooting calculations were seemingly more based how many possessions it had been since the last time he shot it, or whether a certain switch on a matchup played to his ego.  Many of Young’s decisions have nothing to do with what is happening in the moment.  Often times when Young is making the right basketball plays it involves him making a pass – even a simple one. 

            Then, suddenly, he will make a great play – showcasing that he possesses the physical and mental ability to briefly unburden himself and make the plays which the current moment demands.  Without having seen him in person, I’m suspecting those who have would attest to his unusual quickness, lightness on his feet, and how he rarely labors to get past a defender off the dribble. 

            Young biggest issue to date is that he has no genuine interest in connecting with his teammates.  Even in “Details” clip, he showed a complete lack of connection with his teammates.  Toward the end of the clip a teammate came to give him dap and Young, perhaps inadvertently, shrugged him off to gripe about something else affecting Him.  He doesn’t talk on the floor.  He doesn’t engage his teammates and encourage them.  He doesn’t seem to view his teammates as equals.  His entitlement reeks of a young guard who sees his teammates as pawns to help him in his branding endeavors. 

            Young came into the University of Oklahoma with an anointed disposition. His individualized style of play was magnetically so dissonant that he mainly attracted back to himself exactly that, dissonance.  One must admit, there is a false magnetisms and dissonance when a player can lead the NCAA in points and assists, only to lose 12 of their last 16 games and get eliminated in the first round of a tournament where, really, they should not have been granted entrance.

            The one time I have observed Young wanting to connect with his teammates was in their miraculous comeback in the game against Indiana in Las Vegas.  Once he was subbed out midway through the third Atlanta finally started to play as a team.  They quickly evaporated an over 20-point lead, and, to Young’s credit, he became engaged in the game from the bench in a way I had not seen.  He was actually communicating with his teammates for once, cheering them on, and engaged himself in a collective energy which his teammates created.  Once he entered back into the game late in the fourth, he was completely in the flow, made great plays, and Atlanta ended up winning by Young taking them across the finish line in crunch time.

            But with all this said, I also want to address some of the talk in summer league regarding Young.  In the words of the robotically short-circuited Marco Rubio, let us dispel with the notion that Trae Young is the next Steph Curry.  Yeah, they are both undersized guards who can shoot from deep, handle, and have the ability to make thrilling passes.  But aside from that there is Absolutely Nothing which the two have in common, especially energetically, spiritually, and in terms of their relationship with the Karma of the Game.

            Young simply does not make others around him better yet, and I have not been under the impression that his teammates enjoy playing with him.  The End.