Steve Nash is Trae Young's Favorite All-Time Player
Young expects to make a huge impact in NBA right away
ORLANDO - What if, in the haste of trying find an NBA similarity to what Trae Young did in demolishing the college competition and the basketball world breathlessly wanting to replicate the greatness of Stephen Curry, it saddled the University of Oklahoma guard with unfair and inaccurate comparisons to a two-time MVP winner?
What if Young – who indeed has the same slight build, light skin tone, limitless shooting range and seemingly magical abilities with the basketball as Curry – actually patterns his game after a different, yet equally dynamic player who also once won consecutive MVP awards?
``Steve Nash is my favorite player of all time,’’ Young said when talking about his basketball influences. ``With his size and my size, we’re very similar. He’s very cerebral, he can score from all three levels, he knows how to get his teammates involved and he’s a winner. I feel like a lot of his characteristics are similar to mine.
``I love the comparisons (to Curry),’’ Young added later. ``He’s a two-time MVP and a champion and I love the comparisons. But I feel like I bring a lot of things from a lot of different players’ games. I’m just trying to be the best version of Trae Young.’’
Young’s version of himself was downright jaw-dropping this past season as he became the first player ever to lead NCAA basketball in scoring (27.4 ppg.) and assists (8.7 apg.) in the same season. The fact that the 19-year-old Young did it as a true freshman and in his lone collegiate season speaks to how advanced and complete his game can be at times. Hence, the lofty comparisons to the seemingly incomparable Curry and Nash – two point guards who lacked sheer size, yet still controlled games with their smarts, savvy and shooting.
Those comparisons have NBA GMs and scouts salivating at the thought of drafting Young to run their teams with his rare combination of great shooting range and remarkable passing vision. Are those talents dynamic and difference-making enough to make them overlook Young’s lack of size and how he seemed to physically wear down over the final six weeks of the college season? Are they enough to cover up his obvious defensive deficiencies?
Supporters of Young stress that he will thrive even more in the pro game with its spacing, while detractors wonder if he’s even the best collegiate point guard available.
Time will ultimately tell pro personnel thinks when the NBA Draft unfolds on June 21. Most mock drafts have Young expected to come off the board anywhere from the six-through-10 range, meaning the Orlando Magic – owners of the No. 6 pick and a team very much in need of a difference-making point guard – could have the first shot at selecting Young. Phoenix, Sacramento, Atlanta, Memphis and Dallas compose the top five and all of them except the Suns seem to already have their point guard of the future already in place. That, of course, is subject to change with the rebuilding Hawks reportedly willing to part with mercurial point guard Dennis Schroder in a trade.
Young admitted to rolling his eyes when some suggest that his style won’t work in the NBA and when mock drafts predict him falling to the midpoint of the lottery. The competitive fire that burns inside of him showed itself last week at the NBA Combine when Young was asked if he considered himself the best scorer available in the draft.
``I think I’m the best overall player in this draft,’’ he said with conviction. ``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.’’
NBA talent evaluators had to be eager to see Young’s official measurements at last week’s Draft Combine because of rampant questions about his size and strength. It had to come as a relief to some when Young was measured at 6-foot, 1¾ inches (with shoes) and his weight was up to 177.8 pounds. Curry currently dominates games at 6-3 and 190 pounds, while Nash played at 6-3 and 180 pounds during his likely Hall of Fame career. Rod Strickland, another major influence on Young’s career, played at 6-3 and 175 pounds and he’s given him numerous tips on how to survive and thrive against bigger guards.
In the time since his college career ended with his declaration that he was headed to the NBA, Young has not only worked on his game, but has also worked to add muscle. Before heading off to individual workouts with teams, Young said he wanted to be as prepared as possible for the transition to the NBA game.
``I prepared extremely hard coming into the college season, so that I could make a huge impact right away,’’ he said. ``I’m working two times as hard to get into the NBA. I want to make a huge impact right away.
``Right now, my main focus is getting my body right,’’ Young added. ``I’ve picked up 10 pounds of muscle in the past five weeks and we’re still five weeks off from the draft and I’m in the same process of getting my body ready to handle 82 games in the season.’’
Despite averaging 42.6 points and 5.8 assists a game as a senior in high school in Norman, Okla., Young was ranked anywhere from second to fifth among point guards in his class among various recruiting services. He used those perceived slights as fuel heading into his freshman season at Oklahoma. It didn’t take him long into his time with the Sooners to show off his flashy skill set as he smashed the NCAA record for assists in a game (he had 22) to go along with 26 points, three 3-pointers and four rebounds on Dec. 19 against Northwestern State.
After the first 12 games of 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.
At the time, Young thought that start would clear up some of the questions that surrounded him coming into college. As it turns out, those questions would resurface with the way he and the Sooners limped to the finish line.
Oklahoma followed up the 11-1 start with a 7-13 finish – one in which it did not win a road game or 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 weight of being a marked man – his accomplishments were all the rage on the national highlight shows early in the season – seemed to take a toll on Young as the season progressed. With no other Top-100 recruits on the OU 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.
Still, Young felt he accomplished more than most expected from him. He admitted to playing all season with a chip on his shoulder – a mindset that he will take with him to the NBA.
``As far as being a one-and-done … a lot of people had me as the fourth or fifth best point guard in my class … so, I felt like I had something to prove coming into this year,’’ Young said boldly. ``I felt like I did pretty good with that this year, but I still have a lot of hard work and a lot of stuff to get better at.
``I’ll always have that chip on my shoulder until I hang my shoes up,’’ he added. ``No matter how long I play this game, the chip on my shoulder will always be there. That won’t change.’’
Whether or not that will allow him to be a superstar the caliber of Curry or Nash remains to be seen. Young’s freshman numbers (27.4 ppg., 8.7 apg., 1.7 spg., 5.2 TOpg., 42.2 FG percent, 36 3FG percent) hold up when stacked against what Curry did at Davidson as a junior (28.6 ppg., 5.6 apg., 2.5 spg., 3.7 TOpg., 45.4 FG percent, 38.7 3FG percent) or what Nash did in his finest season at Santa Clara as a sophomore (20.9 ppg., 6.4 apg., 1.7 spg., 4.2 TOpg., 44.4 FG percent, 45.4 3FG percent). Or did Young simply craft those kinds of gaudy numbers simply because his usage rage (37.1 possessions per game) was far greater than anything Curry was ever asked to do at Davidson (31.6 possessions per game as a college junior)?
Curry, of course, overcame ankle injuries early in his career and went on to win two NBA titles, two MVP awards and his Warriors are heavy favorites to win a third championship this season. Nash, who last played in 2014 following a 14-year career, won MVPs in 2005 and ’06, led the NBA in assists five times and finished third all-time in assists with 10,335.
Young ponders those numbers and feels that he has the potential to eventually live up to those lofty standards. To his credit, he not only doesn’t run away from the Curry or Nash comparisons given to him, he fully embraces them.
``I’m just getting started in this thing and hopefully I can achieve some of those same things,’’ he said, referring to the accomplishments set by Nash and Curry.
``I think I bring a lot to a team,’’ he promised. ``I can bring an immediate impact off the court as well as on the court. As far as my skill set, I space out the defense, I can attack defenders in multiple ways and get my teammates involved. I can pretty much do it all for a team and I’m looking forward to making a huge impact for whatever team I go to.’’
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