ORLANDO – All throughout his two-day stay in Orlando, Trae Young would dream with his eyes wide open. When he flew in over Central Florida, walked inside the Amway Center for the first time, joked with long-time friend Jonathan Isaac and tugged on an Orlando Magic shirt, Young dreamed about what life would be like if his career path eventually took him along this route.
``You definitely envision it,’’ Young said on Thursday following his individual workout with the Magic. ``When you put on this (black, sleeveless Magic) shirt or step on this court, you have to envision yourself being here every day and working out. Nighttime and when you are alone on those early mornings, you have to envision all of that if you want to be great.’’
The Magic could be envisioning what their franchise would look like with the dazzling and dynamic Young running the show as their point guard. Orlando owns the No. 6 pick of the June 21st NBA Draft, meaning it could potentially have an opportunity to select the only player in basketball history to lead the NCAAs in the scoring (27.4 ppg.) and assists (8.7 apg.) in the same season.
While Phoenix and Sacramento – owners of the top two selections – could be training their focus on consensus top picks DeAndre Ayton, Luka Doncic and Marvin Bagley III, other teams picking ahead of Orlando such as Atlanta (No. 3), Memphis (No. 4) and Dallas (No. 5) seem to be set at point guard and could opt for players with other skills. That could change, however, if Atlanta follows through on the rumors to cut ties with mercurial point guard Dennis Schroeder or another team trades up to nab the 6-foot-2, 180-pound Young. Thus far, Young has worked out for New York (No. 9 pick) and Orlando (No. 6 pick) and will have individual sessions next week with Atlanta (No. 3) and Chicago (No. 7).
Young, who dined with Magic President of Basketball Operations Jeff Weltman and GM John Hammond on Wednesday night, said he could definitely see himself fitting in with the Magic. Orlando traded point guard Elfrid Payton last February and finished the season with veterans D.J. Augustin and Shelvin Mack manning the starting job. Young, with his rare combination of long-range shooting, passing vision and creative playmaking, could give the star-starved Magic just the difference-making jolt they need to get back into the playoff chase in the Eastern Conference.
``I know a lot about this Magic team,’’ said Young, who did only individual drills in front of Magic staffers on Thursday. ``I’ve known Jonathan (Isaac) since high school because we played against each other and we joked how his team beat mine in an AAU game. D.J. (Augustin) went to Texas, (Bismack) Biyombo, (Nikola) Vucevic and Aaron (Gordon), obviously, I know a lot of these guys and I think I could come in and help.’’
Isaac, Orlando’s 20-year-old forward who was the No. 6 pick nearly a year ago, agrees that Young could help the Magic. In addition to facing off in high school and in AAU basketball, Isaac and Young kept in touch throughout last season, sharing their experiences at the pro and college levels. Isaac marveled from afar at how Young dominated games with his shooting and play-making skills.
``Trae Young is absolutely ridiculous,’’ Isaac said glowingly. ``I think, in time, he’s going to be one of the great players from this draft class. When you think about the shots that he made this season – and none of his shots were ever open – it’s amazing. I really like his game and his personality. Getting to know him has been really cool.’’
Young, who doesn’t turn 20 years old until September, was the poster boy for ``cool’’ early in the college season, regularly making national headlines and appearing nightly on the sports highlight shows while starring for Oklahoma. Twelve games into the season, Young’s Sooners sat at a surprising 11-1 and with him leading the nation at 29.5 points and 10.7 assists on 47.5 percent shooting and 41.3 percent accuracy from 3-point range.
However, the weight of being a marked man seemed to take a toll on Young as the season progressed. With no other Top-100 recruits on the Oklahoma roster, Young’s usage rate soared as he was expected to simultaneously score and set up others for easy baskets – all while being regularly face-guarded and often double-teamed by foes. As a result, he shot just 32.8 percent from the floor and 32.8 percent from 3-point range over the final 20 games. He still averaged 26.1 points and 7.6 assists a night, but his turnovers soared to the point that his final total (161) also led the nation.
Oklahoma followed up the 11-1 start with a 7-13 finish – one in which it did not win on the road or in a neutral-site game (0-11) after the calendar flipped to 2018. That poor finish included a 104-74 loss at Kansas on Feb. 19 and a six-game skid where the Sooners didn’t win from Jan. 30 to Feb. 24. Also, there was a marquee showdown against Alabama in which some observers thought fellow draft prospect Collin Sexton (18 points, two assists, eight-of-14 shooting, three turnovers) outplayed Young (17 points, eight assists, six-fo-17 shooting, five turnovers) on Jan. 27.
The poor finish, however, did little to ding Young’s confidence in his abilities. During the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago in late May he emphatically stated: ``I think I’m the best overall player in this draft. My main focus isn’t to be the best player in this draft; my goal is to be the best player in the NBA and that’s what I’m focusing on each and every day.’’
Young, who had four 40-point games and 10 more 30-point efforts this past season, backed up those words with actions, working to add bulk and muscle to a thin frame some wonder might wear down during the grind of an 82-game NBA season.
``I’ve been fluctuating a little bit up and down since I’ve been traveling a little bit, but the last time I checked before I left I was 180,’’ Young said of his weight. ``So I’ve picked up 12 pounds since my last game and it’s straight muscle, too. So, I’ve just got to continue to get stronger and continue to work on my weaker points.’’
Some of Young’s weaker points include one-on-one defense, battling against bigger, more physical players and his propensity for throwing high-risk, high-reward passes. In time as he continues to mature and add strength, Young said teams will be able to see his mental and physical toughness in challenging situations.
``I just want to show them my overall competitiveness, that I’m a competitor and that I’ll do whatever it takes to win,’’ Young said. ``I think (defense) is something that I left out there for question and I know that I’m going to have to show from Day 1 that I can play defense and that’s something that I’m very excited about doing.’’
Young is also excited about playing in the pro game and utilizing the extra spacing that it provides with the wider lane and longer 3-point shot. He feels that he will eventually prove to be an even more dynamic player at the NBA level – and that’s saying something considering that he once set the NCAA record for assists in a game (22), had nine performances with at least five made threes and 11 instances where he handed out double-digit assists.
Young even pointed out on Thursday that he could see himself playing a similar role as all-star guard Kemba Walker under new Magic coach Steve Clifford, who worked previously for the Charlotte Hornets. Again, Young’s visit to Orlando was filled with dreams of how he could help make an impact on the Magic right away if drafted by Orlando.
``It would mean a lot, knowing that the organization really believes in my ability and really believes that I can come in and help right away,’’ Young said when asked what it would mean to him if he were drafted by the Magic. ``That’s something that I really want to do – help this team win right away. That’s something that I tried to do coming into the season at Oklahoma – help my team win, do big things and shock the world. That’s what I want to do (in the NBA).’’
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