Thad Young is playing his best basketball as a Chicago Bull

One indicator of Thad Young's play: the veteran is currently shooting a career-high 56.1% this season, a year after shooting a career-low 44.8% from the field.
by Sam Smith
Remind Me Later
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Thad Young is averaging a triple-double in Chicago's last two games, despite not recording a triple-double himself. He has was looked rejuvenated in comfortable in a more facilitating role this season and will be expected to step up in the absence of center Wendell Carter Jr.

The Bulls finally were able to acquire that so called glue guy, the player whose statistics aren't exceptional but whose value to the team is immeasurable.

He's the player who chases down the loose ball and the elusive opponent. He finds just not the open teammate, but the open teammate with the best shot. And gets the ball there at the right time in the right place. He's tough and relentless and the Golden State Warriors call him Draymond Green. He goes by the name of Thaddeus Young with the Bulls.

"I think you're getting what I signed up for and who I am as a player," Young was saying following Bulls practice Sunday. "I think Billy's (Donovan, coach) done a good job of putting me in position to where I can help the team succeed and I can succeed myself. Last year was just so different for me and it was hard to adjust to because it was something that I had never done in my whole career with just kind of being placed outside on the three-point line and trying to make plays and reads from there. I've been always a player that, yeah, I'll step out and take some, but put me in the middle and let me make decisions and reads and we'll take it from there. The biggest thing is just going out there and being able to play and feeling comfortable. And I feel very much comfortable this year.

"I'm able to do a lot of the things I was doing with previous teams, which is catching the ball in the pocket, playing and reading the defense, stepping out and taking an occasional shot here and there, but also when I get mismatches being able to take advantage of those mismatches on the post," Young added. "If they come with the double, make the read, make the pass out. If they don't then try and abuse the guy that's guarding me. Billy and the coaching staff have done a phenomenal job of just kind of putting us all in successful positions and putting us in position where we could all be good for the team, also be great for this organization.''

Billy Donovan and Thad Young

Young also is the kind of veteran voice to help a young team get through to the next game—Monday against the Knicks in the first of a back to back in the United Center with New York—after the devastating letdown and loss Saturday night to Portland on Damian Lillard's back to back three pointers. There have been the usual couldas and wouldas, and Young like Donovan after the game pointed to breakdowns earlier in the game that enabled Portland to be in position to produce the open mouth, slump shouldered unthinkable.

The loss left the Bulls at 7-11 that no raspberry Slurpee could quench. But there was no chicken finger pointing about a late big gulp for anyone. Because, in part, Thad is feeling young again.

The 32-year-old veteran southpaw in his 14th NBA season has been a revelation stepping in for injured Wendell Carter Jr., averaging a triple double the last two games even if Young still hasn't claimed his official first. He missed by an assist and a rebound against Boston and by a basket against Portland.

Young with his where-did-that-shot-come-from eccentric offense is averaging 10.1 points, 5.2 rebounds and 4.1 assists in about 25 minutes off the bench. But he's the effective starter with Daniel Gafford nominally in the role. Young and the Bulls are making the most of it with Young at career highs in shooting and assists and either Nos. 1 or 2 on the Bulls per minute in assists, steals, rebounds and shooting. Plus he's second in the league in charges drawn. Down goes Thad! Which is good.

It's been both a delight and education to watch Young, back in his comfortable position in the lane on offense making plays as something of a point center and beating opponents to rebounds to get extra possessions.

Even in the last three games, all losses, the Bulls have a 50-23 advantage in second chance points thanks primarily to Young's knowledge as much as effort. Like Dennis Rodman, he studies where balls are coming off the rim and knows what box out means. Like Green for the Warriors, Young is adept at finding teammates on the move.

Thad Young

"Thad's been great," said Zach LaVine. "He's been on a roll now to where we are utilizing his full talent. This is two straight games where he should have had a triple double. He had eight, 11 and 11 and last game I think he had 14, nine and nine. So he's bringing everything offensively, defensively, playmaking, leadership. Thad's one of those guys you love having on your team and we can't take that for granted."

The Bulls seemed to last season even after making Young their primary free agent acquisition on a three-year deal. It was too expensive for the Indiana Pacers, where the 6-8 forward for three seasons with modest statistics was a linchpin for overachieving Pacers teams. It seemed just what the Bulls needed to advise and consent with a young team. But Young was asked to hang around the perimeter and shoot threes, putting him at odds at least with what he could provide for the team.

"I've always been a player that tries to make the best out of each and every situation," said Young. "Not going to be a head case or a distraction to the team. If I have something that's wrong with me and people see it, I just tell them, ‘I'm fine, don't worry about me.' I'll just figure out how to get the job done. That's always what I've been my whole career. Just a guy that figures out how to get the job done to the best of his abilities and also go out there and listen to the coaches. Billy, he's telling me, ‘Hey, we need you to play in the pocket, we need you to make reads for us.' Like, ‘No problem.'"

LaVine has been a marvel to watch in his best season in a career in which he's previously averaged 25 points. Lauri Markkanen has been regaining confidence coming off a season best 31 points Saturday. But Young has been special to watch with his clever passing from the post (or pocket in the lane), his model that's aided the ball movement and the offensive rebounds between multiple and seemingly bewildered opponents with that, "Where'd that guy come from?' look.

Thad Young sets a screen for Zach LaVine

Young offered an inside look Sunday at what some of those conversations with teammates are like.

"Before the season started when we were going through the offensive package, I told Wendell and Daniel, but specifically Wendell, I said, ‘Wendell, the way you can pass the basketball and the way you can do certain things with your basketball IQ,' I said, ‘You can really eat off this for the simple fact of the big orchestrates the offense now.' Every time we hit the big at the top of the key, he has to be able to pick out where we are going to go with the basketball. I knew from the beginning that the five-man up top orchestrating the offense is going to be a guy who can actually manipulate the offense and be able to facilitate.

"We take time in practice and go through small things like rolling into the pocket and slowing down and making reads and passes, understanding what's going to be open if somebody helps and stuff like that," Young explained. "All the bigs. Get them more comfortable with playing in the pocket because our guards are really good guards and they're trapping Coby (White), they're trapping Zach coming off and they are showing hard just to get the ball out of their hands. When they do get the ball to us we have to be able to make those reads and decisions."

Young isn't the quick defender he once was, the player you'd put on LeBron or Kawhi or Giannis. Rookie Patrick Williams tries that these days as best as he can. But it's on offense where Young makes such a difference for the Bulls, who are fourth in the NBA in scoring and now top 10 in assists and three-point shooting.

Players like Thad Young, like Draymond Green, are generally more adhesive than acclaimed. Without Carter's size and length, the Bulls are going to give up more of those layups. But with Young, they're also going to keep the defense on the defensive.

"Just playing playing basketball and having fun," said Young. "Playing the game and trying to win."

Keep looking ahead, like for the next open man.

Got a question for Sam?

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The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or its Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

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