Former Oklahoma star Trae Young is one of the most polarizing talents in the 2018 NBA Draft. A non-traditional one-and-done sensation who skyrocketed from a projected multi-year college player to an NBA lottery lock in a span of several months, Young led Division I both in points per game (27.4) and assists per game (8.7) en route to becoming the most famous college basketball player of the season.
Young's game was all the rage thanks to his distance-defining 3-pointers, uncanny court vision, and all-around self-assured attitude that left fans of the sport no choice but to tune in on a nightly basis. As appointment television goes, Young's Sooners were near the top of the list each game -- no small feat for a sport that battles for views with college football for half its season.
As the season progressed, so too did teams' knowledge and success in defending Young. Sure, he could knock down a shot from a half-county away, but larger, more physical defenders threw him off his game from time to time. He put up eye-popping numbers that kept him in the conversation, but they were sometimes empty, inefficient stats compared to his stellar production earlier in the season, such as his 48-point outburst against Oklahoma State that came in a loss -- and on 39 shots, no less.
Young's light was perpetually green, a rare twist of fortune for a freshman. It made getting a read on how he may fit in an NBA-style system difficult, but also simple at times seeing that, quite obviously, he can do tremendous things as the first option in an offense. His ceiling is sky-high as an NBA player, and even despite his down-slope towards the end of the season, there's a reason he's likely to be one of the top picks.
Let's take a look at some of the strengths -- and weaknesses -- from Young's game at the college level:
- Accurate shooter off the dribble
- Near-limitless 3-point range
- Excellent court vision/ability to find teammates in stride
- Below average strength and athleticism
- Susceptible being overpowered by physical defenders
- Low release point, which could haunt him against NBA talent
Now let's check out the tape and break down some of these strengths and weaknesses.
Shooting off the dribble
Given Young's usage rate at Oklahoma and his role in carrying the offense, Young's 36 percent accuracy from the 3-point line -- a mark that ranked 115th in Division I last season -- is nothing to scoff at. He took the fourth most shots from downtown last season at 3.69 per game, per NCAA.com, and made a majority of his buckets off the bounce in OU's offense.
Many of which weren't exactly close to the 3-point line, which is a huge reason why comparisons to Stephen Curry were made on a near-nightly basis during the college season. His range knows no bounds.
Where Young lacks in size (6-foot-2), he makes up for in awareness, which accentuates his game. As you can see in the first highlight above, a screening teammate sets him up at the top of the key and rather than using it to drive to the basket or to run a pick and roll action, he sees the defender die on the screen rather than fighting through. The result is a quick trigger from Young from deep -- another one of his strengths that will make up for his lack of ideal size. He can get his shot off in a hurry.
Young is a playmaking prospect who thrives as a true point guard. Sure, he can rip the net as well as any shooting guard, but his ability -- and willingness -- to involve others qualifies him as one of the most heady prospects in this draft class. He operates at his best when he can get others rolling, thus opening up space on offense for him to get more clean looks when the defense diverts it attention elsewhere.
When discussing Young's abilities strictly from a passing perspective, perhaps most impressive is his willingness and success to fit passes into tight pockets as shown in the second play of the sequence below. But at times, that also led to one of the weaknesses he showed as a freshman, too. His NCAA-leading assists per game mark is tremendously impressive and stands on its own merit, but in the same token, he also led the NCAA in turnovers at 5.22 per game thanks to his risk-taking nature of play. Too often, Young tried fitting passes in too tight a window, and his efforts to try and make a perfect pass -- as opposed to the right pass -- often led to erratic, mistake-laden point guard play from time to time.
Young tied an NCAA record with 22 assists against Northwestern State last season, but his inconsistency showed later in the season with an opposite end of the spectrum performance against Kansas State. Against the Wildcats in conference play, he produced a career-high 12 turnovers in a loss, and his rock-slinging propensity got carried away as he buried the Sooners' chances of stealing a win on the road with mindless mistakes.
Young's lackluster showing is an extreme example of how careless Young can be with the ball, though. Overall, he's still one of -- if not the best -- passers in this year's draft. Sometimes you take the bad with the good and hope the latter wins out more times than not and that he learns to sharpen those flaws as he develops his game.
Lack of strength
Draftniks were treated with a midseason doozy when Young was pitted up against Alabama's Collin Sexton, another blue-chip point guard prospect likely to hear his name inside the top 10 the same night as Young. In that matchup, Sexton, at times, bullied Young on both sides of the floor. Young's lack of strength was a glaring weakness, and Sexton used that to his advantage by forcing Young out of his comfort zone, leading to careless turnovers like this one miles away from his own basket.
Sexton also used his physical advantage over Young to his benefit on offense, exposing Young's lack of both athleticism, strength and lateral quickness in one sequence of their matchup when he bully-balled his way to the rim for an easy bucket. Young had no answer and stood no chance keeping him away from the basket.
Young's strength is something that's been addressed this offseason, as he's reportedly gained more than 10 pounds training for the draft. He will need to continue his physical development to be a serviceable defender in the NBA, and even then it seems he may always just be destined to be a lackluster defender. His lack of athleticism and burst could turn him into an easy target on defense early in his career.
On the whole though, Young's ceiling and offensive arsenal is tantalizing enough that one team will be overjoyed to select him in the upcoming lottery. Even if he doesn't produce points at the same clip in the NBAright away, his ball-handling and play-making ability make him a plug-and-play point guard for a franchise to build around. If he has close to the same success in the league as he found at the collegiate level, he could one day be a superstar.