This is Trae Young’s time. If nothing else, the Hawks point guard earned his way into the minds of casual basketball fans after a terrific performance on arguably the league’s biggest stage, Madison Square Garden in New York.
Young is off to a terrific start to his NBA career; in each of his three seasons he has ranked among the NBA top 10 in at least one statistical category. Just as important, he has the Hawks rising in the East and is already the centerpiece of a team hoping to become taken seriously as a contender within the next two or three seasons.
Everything on the Hawks is dictated by what Young decides to do with the ball in his hands. That’s how much trust the Hawks have in the 22-year-old who is capable of scoring off the dribble, from beyond the 3-point stripe or by finding an open teammate with a timely pass.
Here are 10 things to know about the Hawks’ rising young NBA star:
Small kid, big range. Young has received glowing reviews about his shooting range since high school — this is where the Steph Curry comparisons began — but the roots of this technique actually began a few years earlier. Young was always the smallest kid on his travel teams and frequently had his shots blocked; that’s when he began shooting floaters, practicing that when his father held up a broom stick when guarding him. His father also suggested he shoot further away from the hoop. This too was tricky, at least initially; Young had to use every muscle in his body to reach the net. But that muscle memory was honed soon thereafter and once he entered high school, Young perfected the art of shooting from deep. This continued at Oklahoma and in the NBA with the Hawks.
Home schooling. Young was taught the game by his father, Rayford Young, who played at Texas Tech. Rayford Young was only 5-11 but started and averaged 16 points his final three years at Tech. His signature moment was dropping 41 against Kansas and Paul Pierce, 32 of which came in the last nine minutes. Rayford Young met Candice, his future wife, at Tech and Trae was born in Lubbock, right before Rayford’s junior year.
Ball, meet bucket. Young has never experienced anything that would classify as a down scoring year in basketball in his entire life. He began playing high school ball as a sophomore and averaged 25 points. The next year, he averaged 34, and then 42 as a senior. He played one season at Oklahoma and led the nation in scoring and assists. In fact, the only season in his life where he averaged less than 20 was his rookie year with the Hawks (19.1); he still made first team All-Rookie.
A star in the ATL. Young recently said he can no longer go incognito in Atlanta, especially to one of his favorite places, Lenox Mall in Buckhead. When asked how quickly people notice him there, he said: “Soon as I pull up to the valet.” Historically, the Hawks haven’t matched the Falcons and Braves in that charismatic category. With the exception of Dominique Wilkins, whose statue sits at the entrance of State Farm Arena, former Hawks haven’t sold much merch, no offense to Joe Johnson and Al Horford and Mookie Blaylock. Young counts all of Atlanta’s rappers as his close friends, among them 2 Chains and the group Migos.
Gigi’s guy. Young was a favorite of Kobe Bryant’s daughter, Gigi. The connection was size; she was impressed by how Young thrived despite being a shade over six feet tall. Kobe took her to see Young play during the 2019-20 season, once in Brooklyn against the Nets and then again when the Hawks played at Staples Center in L.A.
— UNINTERRUPTED (@uninterrupted) March 8, 2020
Climbing the charts. Young has only played three seasons for the Hawks yet is already No. 7 on the franchise’s all-time 3-pointers made list; he should crack the top five real soon. Assuming good health and a reasonably lengthy career — and also assuming he stays in Atlanta — Young could be the all-time leader in scoring and assists, and remember, one of those lists is held down by ‘Nique. Only Curry with the Warriors leads those career charts on any franchise.
Luka Doncic and the Trade. Young will always be linked to Doncic because of the 2018 Draft-day trade between the Mavericks and Hawks, where Dallas tossed in a 2019 first-round pick (Cam Reddish) to sweeten the deal. Young admitted feeling pressure initially to live up to the trade, which wasn’t universally hailed in Atlanta at the time. That’s why Young struggled at the Salt Lake City summer league and then for the first few games of the Las Vegas summer league. But then he caught fire in Vegas, found his stride midway through his rookie season, and hasn’t endured a lengthy stretch of bad basketball since. As a footnote, Young and Doncic are very friendly and text each other often.
Dual threat. Young said he would love to lead the NBA in scoring and assists in the same season, as he did in college. That’s only been done once: Nate Archibald of the KC-Omaha Kings in 1972-73. Also, only Wilt Chamberlain, James Harden, LeBron James and Russell Westbrook have led the league in scoring and assists in different seasons. Last season Young was fourth in scoring and second in assists. This season Young was 14th in scoring and second in assists.
Take a bow. Young is one of only two visiting players to score 30 or more points in three straight playoff games at the Garden. The other is Michael Jordan. Young tortured the Knicks in the first round by winning two of three games, one with a game-winning shot, and then famously bowing late in the elimination game before leaving the floor. That instantly elevated him among the most reviled — and successful — opposing players at the Garden on a list that begins with Jordan and Reggie Miller.
Best buds. Young’s best friend in the NBA is Michael Porter Jr., the rising talent with the Nuggets. Young says: “We talk all the time, at least two or three times a week” and refers to Porter as his brother. The bond began as teenagers when Young asked Porter to join his AAU team. Together, they won the prestigious Nike Peach Jam in 2016 and shared co-MVP honors. They tried to sell themselves as a package to college recruiters but Porter went to Missouri because his father was hired as an assistant coach there. Young often said that was his biggest regret, not being able to continue that relationship beyond travel ball. Maybe at some point in the NBA?
This is nothing new to Michael Porter JR. Been watching him ball like this for years @nuggets ….just like one of his besties in this picture, they’re only in YEAR 3 of the ASSOCIATION.😳 God has a plan for us all. 🙏🏾🏀 pic.twitter.com/KhXcgM1te5
— Ray Young (@rayfordyoung) June 4, 2021