Trae Young Is Orchestrating The Hawks' Offense Towards Its Best Version of Itself
Story by K.L. Chouinard
Follow him on Twitter: @KLChouinard
As the Hawks nursed the remains of a once-healthy lead Monday, Trae Young exchanged handoffs with Bogdan Bogdanovic at the edge of the logo with 2:45 remaining in the game. Then he darted around a pick from John Collins. Trae, playing in his third NBA season, knew that Detroit point guard Killian Hayes, playing in his third NBA game, was trailing the play from behind. In fact, Trae – like the cagey veteran that he already is – did everything in his power to get Hayes behind him, snaking his drive back behind the original screen into the middle of the lane.
Then, in the tiniest fraction of a second, Trae hit the brakes, rose to shoot and induced an inevitable collision with the rookie to win two valuable free throws.
Forty-five seconds later, the Hawks ran an identical action: handoffs with Bogdanovic up top, a pick from Collins nearby. Hayes, proceeding with an extra dose of caution, smashed squarely into the screen. Trae used the resulting space to sink a wide-open three, one that was officially listed in the box score as a 30-footer. In less than a minute, Trae had smartly manufactured five points in a most logical fashion.
If he hadn't already done enough to seal the win, Trae called timeout as he was falling out of bounds with a rebound with 35 seconds left to secure an extra possession.
"I was thinking about doing that last night," he said after the game. "I had never done that just falling out of bounds. It's crazy that it happened today... I think I only made that decision because I thought about it last night."
Trae's on-court direction – whether in the form of free throws or play-calling, timely time outs or elegant passes – has the team humming along nicely.
And every orchestra needs a conductor. By acquiring Bogdanovic, Danilo Gallinari, Solomon Hill, and Rajon Rondo this offseason, the Hawks added a number of virtuoso offensive players to the young core that developed over the past few seasons. It's Trae's job – like it is for any good conductor – to set the tempo and merge his players into harmony. Often that task requires the maestro to speed things up, but for Trae, it occasionally involves a sudden slowdown, a fact not lost on Head Coach Lloyd Pierce.
"He knows that teams are chasing him over pick and rolls, and he has mastered the ability to stop on a dime and have the defender run into him," Pierce said.
Trae leads the NBA with 42 successful free throws this season. Luka Doncic and Bradley Beal rank 2nd and 3rd, respectively, with 25 and 24 makes from the charity stripe. Trae's free points are a huge reason that the Hawks have yet to lose a game this season. Some opponents try to speed Trae up. Others try to slow him down. His ability to conduct the offense at all tempos make their effort largely irrelevant.
Trae says that the ability to accelerate and decelerate is learned and practiced.
"I train really hard in the offseason on my balance and on my stops and starts," he said. "My ability to stop and decelerate and go real quick is something that I really do work on... It's something that I can use to my advantage, especially as a smaller guard."
One week into the season, the Hawks are tied for the best record in the Eastern Conference. Trae leads the NBA in total points and ranks second in points per game. The fresh ensemble of shooters is burying threes at a clip that far surpasses last season's disappointing result. Without a doubt, the schedule is about to get more difficult and there are some defensive missteps to clean up, but the promise of a fun team is extremely, tangibly real.
In the instant after the Hawks moved to 3-0, Trae trotted out to center court. He navigated around a few bodies to seek out the promising rookie Hayes, to whom he offered a smile, a thump on the chest and a few words of encouragement. Trae's stature in the game is real, his words carry weight with younger players and he is kindly eager to share them. His veteran energy is real.