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Trae Young's Floater Key Element To His On-Court Success
Author: Kevin L. Chouinard
Trae Young knows how to make winning plays.
Midway through the fourth quarter in the Hawks' 129-127 win over the Philadelphia 76ers, James Ennis shot a three from the left corner. The shot missed, and Joel Embiid lined up to make a rebound on the opposite side of the rim. But as the 7-foot center took a step back to track the ball, Young stepped in behind him to jump for the same rebound. Sensing competition, Embiid tried to tap the ball back to a teammate but bumped it further than he expected, and the 76ers lost the ball out of bounds.
Young, showing the competitive drive to compete with someone who could reach at least a foot higher than he could, made the winning play. Thirty minutes later, he made the literal winning play.
With 3.5 seconds left in a tie game, Young gathered an inbounds pass, drove hard right to get an angle for a shot, and lofted a floater over the defense for the win.
"I knew I had a little bit of time where I could get a quick couple of dribbles and then maybe a move before I needed to shoot the ball," Young said. "I just wanted to get to my strong suit and get to my pull-up, that mid-range floater I have.”
For Young, the floater is a key element to counterbalance the other things he does well. He is a transcendental passer who ranks second in the NBA in total assists at age 20. He can hit logo-range three-point shots better than anyone not named Steph Curry. But when defenses set up their schemes and pick-and-roll coverages in a way that takes away those things while enticing him to drive to the rim, he needs to be able to have finishing options on those drives. Right now, and perhaps into the future, the floater is that best option for the 6-foot-2 guard.
"For any little guy that gets in the paint, you have to have that," head coach Lloyd Pierce said. "I call it 'solutions'. You have to have different solutions."
Young ranks near the top of the league in terms of floater attempts and successfully made floaters with 113 field goals on floaters in 237 attempts. Only Mike Conley, Jr. of the Memphis Grizzlies has more. Below is a list of the nine NBA players who have attempted 150 or more floaters in the 2018-19 season (through games played Mar. 23).
Young has converted the shot at a solid 47.7 percent clip for the season, and one good bit of news for Hawks fans is that that number has trended upward since the first couple of months of the season.
On his way to last week's Eastern Conference Player of the Week award, Young scored a combined 55 points in a pair of wins over Utah and Philadelphia, two teams that feature top-10 shot blockers at center: Rudy Gobert and Joel Embiid.
"JoJo has a big presence in the paint," Young said of Embiid. "We talked about it last game with Rudy in the paint. Both those guys make you think about your floater and your shot and whether you can get all the way to the rim for your layups. For me, I knew I needed to have my float game ready."
While Young's game-winning floater helped seal an impressive win over the 76ers, who entered State Farm Arena on a six-game winning streak, it isn't a shot for every situation, per Pierce. It doesn't have the mathematical edge of a dunk, an open corner three, or a free throw. But in the search for motion and balance in the offense, it remains a shot that has a proper time and place.
Pierce, who spent two years in Memphis as an assistant coach early in Conley's career there, liked the situation surrounding the game-winner.
"That one was the right shot," Pierce said. "He has got size and length (in front of him from the 76ers defense). If he goes any further, Joel is at the basket. He has Jimmy (Butler) on his hip. He was able to get there before Jimmy could square him or use his athleticism. Jimmy was basically defenseless at that point. Perfect shot, perfect timing."
Young isn't done honing his craft. And at 20 years old, it seems perfectly reasonable to expect him to get better floating a basketball over defenses and into nets.
"It's something that I worked on a lot in the offseason," Young said, "and I'm going to continue to work on it coming up (this summer). You have definitely have got to have it to be a high-level point guard."
Young already has a floater, and he already is a high-level point guard. Developing it further will take him another notch upward.