Spencer Hazen, ESNY Graphic, Getty Images

No one captivated college basketball quite like Trae Young this past season. The Knicks need to take a long look at a prospect with box office potential.

The New York Knicks are still in the casting stages as they attempt to create the long-awaited sequel to the 90’s Knicks series.

Back then the NBA landscape called for brute strength, attitude, and more grit than a Rocky Marciano training session in Siberia. But things have changed. The NBA has transitioned into a league where long, versatile, smooth, and fluid athletes are in vogue at every position on the court.

The three-point shot has become this generations’ version of “chicks dig the long ball”. And while fans still appreciate that enforcer who treats the rim like the entrance at a swanky NYC hotel bar, dead-eye shooters have become more valuable, and with good reason.

This brings us to Trae Young. A 19-year-old prospect that took the college basketball world by storm, and has had scouts touting him as either the next “Steph Curry” or “Jimmer Fredette” depending on who you listen to.


But make no mistake, Young has generational shooting abilities that cannot be ignored. He’s not without his faults, but even if you saw just a couple of his games this year, you have to acknowledge his star potential. If available, the Knicks would have to strongly consider selecting the Oklahoma native despite having three to four point guards already on the roster for next season.

Strengths

If you look at the top offensive stat categories from this past college basketball season, you’ll notice a common theme, Young was all over it. Young led all college players in points per game 27.4 and assists per game 8.7. He was also ranked at least in the top 20 in categories like points produced, player efficiency rating, free-throws made, three-point field goals made, and box plus/minus. Bottom line, Young was an offensive juggernaut.

Young’s physical stature might make most people wonder how he does it. Standing at six-foot-two (and that might be generous) he does not standout on the court. But, Young is savvy, calculated and gifted at making plays for others and creating space for his own shot despite his lack of size.

To start, Young is deceptively quick and has a great understanding of how to come off screens. Per TheStepien.com, he has a tremendous ability to stop on a dime and transition effectively into a pull-up shooter. This skill in combination with his shooting range is what drew early comparisons to Curry.

Furthermore, Knicks fans this past season saw players like Courtney Lee and Doug McDermott take advantage of a lot of the “horns” sets that Jeff Hornacek ran. Imagine Young in that type of system but with unlimited range? New head coach David Fizdale will certainly incorporate some of those successful sets with shooters like Tim Hardaway Jr. and Lee.

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Per NBAdraft.net, Young has quick a release, and if defenders manage to crowd him, he has the ability to drive to the hoop and convert floaters with remarkable consistency. Watch any tape of him and you realize that he doesn’t need a lot of space to get his shot off. And while he doesn’t have a high release, in fact, it almost starts just below his chin, he rarely gets blocked.

Now as a shooter, Young’s efficiency was not great. He took almost 20 shots per game, shot 42 percent from the field, and 36 percent from the three-point line. There’s no question that his shot selection and efficiency can improve.

But consider this. Halfway through the season, defenses loaded up on whichever side of the court Young was on and they tried to force his teammates to beat them. One narrative was that Young’s teammates were scrubs and he had no help. This is not true, however, he didn’t have a lot of knockdown shooters or players that could create their own shot if he had to pass it up. At the next level, Young will be surrounded by at least two to three shooters that convert that shot if he’s doubled.

Outside of his shooting, Young’s court vision and playmaking skills are what make him a top-five prospect and starting point guard in the NBA.

Jonathan Wasserman of Bleacher Report wrote about Young’s ability to score and make decisions in the pick and roll. Young finished within the 76th percentile in pick roll offense, meaning either he scored or dished at a high level when compared with other players in college basketball.

Young regularly keep his head up when dribbling and despite his height, he is able to use his body to shift defenders in traffic. Young is also able to find spaces for tight passes and can look off defenders in half-court sets.

Pairing Young with Kristaps Porzingis would be an absolute gift from the heavens. Young would excel in making the game easier for the unicorn who has struggled to hold his position in the post when teammates are trying to run the offense through him. Although we don’t have a crystal ball, a Young and Porzingis pick and roll would be the first step towards running an efficent and high-scoring NBA offense.

Weaknesses

The biggest knock on Young’s game is his defense.

You can live with a player maybe not understanding how to guard pick and rolls at the age of 19, or not having the foot speed to keep guards in front of him. However, you never want to hear about scouts questioning a player’s effort. Yet this is probably the biggest red flag when evaluating Young.

Brad Crawford of the OU Insider quoted Tim Legler as he gave his two cents on the dynamic point guard during a spot on Sportscenter.

Legler explains,

“For me, and I can honestly say I’ve watched more of Trae Young than any college player in the last 15 years because we talk about him on a daily basis, I do worry about a lack on competitiveness defensively,” Legler said on Wednesday’s SportsCenter. “I don’t know if he shows enough fight sometimes. He has to understand that right now, he’s a marked man. He’s playing a lot of national tv games against guys in a league (Big 12) going right at him, challenging him. Guys trying to make a name for themselves. When they get it in their hands, they see a guy they believe they can attack.

Now as an eternal optimist, I’m willing to bet coach Fizdale can certainly improve Young’s desire to defend and make him at the very least, not a huge liability on the defensive side of the ball.

However, the concerns are there. Without the great measurements, Young will never be more than a one position defender. Additionally, some of the tapes show bad habits like ball watching and poor rotations.

As the primary ball handler, Young’s usage rate at Oklahoma was quite high. They lived with his productivity and died with his turnovers and poor shot selection. Young also led the NCAA in turnovers 167.

In the same Bleacher Report article previously mentioned, Wasserman also discusses Young’s shot selection. Wasserman states that Young shot 29.6 percent on shots early in the shot clock coming out of the pick and roll. Sites like TheStepien.com and NBAdraft.net also cite Young’s tendency to take shots too early in the shot clock as a consistent weakness.

Final Take

I’ve heard a lot of Trae Young hate in the last several months. In general, I’m not really sure where it comes from. Young absolutely needs to protect the ball better and needs to show coaches and GM’s that he cares about defending the ball with the same effort that he shows when running the offense.

Despite this, Young’s overall potential as a dynamic shooter and play-maker is too valuable in today’s NBA to pass up. Most likely, Young will be gone by the time the Knicks are ready to select at number nine. My bet is that he’s selected by either the Orlando Magic or Chicago Bulls.

But if by the grace of Kyle O’Quinn’s beard Young is somehow available at nine, the Knicks have to pick him. Young has the ability to free up shooters and electrify the garden crowd. As a player who was constantly under the microscope in college, he is more than capable of handling the New York spotlight.

Whether in a leading or supporting role, Young is one of the few prospects that can make a direct impact for the Knicks, both in the present and the future. Passing on him may leave Knicks’ fans feeling like they’re watching Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull as opposed to Godfather Part II.

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