Thaddeus Young Sees Opportunity with New-Look Pacers
Buying a house would seems the natural decision for a 28-year-old NBA player with a close-knit family that includes a wife and two young children, but Thad Young knows the ways of his profession all too well. Playing for four teams since the final game of the 2013-14 season can educate a guy.
The Pacers' next starting power forward has a right to be a little skittish. He bought a house in Philadelphia, where he played for his first seven NBA seasons, and bought another in Brooklyn, where he played the previous 101 games of his career, with a 48-game interlude in Minnesota sandwiched between. The four-year contract he signed with Brooklyn before last season gave him hope of settling for awhile, but front office changes unsettled things quickly and dramatically.
"They're trying to rebuild slowly and I'm not getting any younger," Young said of the Nets, who traded him to the Pacers for the 20th overall pick in the draft in June.
So, yeah, he's renting for now.
He's hoping, however, this stop turns out to be one that justifies home ownership and finally brings the deep playoff run that's been missing from his career. And if housing is uncertain, Young's job description and opportunity with the Pacers appear to be as stable as anything can be in the NBA. Barring injury or other unexpected calamity, he will be the starting "four" in the upcoming season, residing between Paul George and Myles Turner on the frontline. He appears to be a perfect addition to coach Nate McMillan's system, one who puts the pieces in place.
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This time last year, after previous four-man David West opted out of his contract, Pacers president Larry Bird and coach Frank Vogel believed their best approach was to place skinny wings at power forward and hope the quickness of those players more than negated their lack of bulk. Paul George, returning from a broken leg, was blunt in his hesitancy to try it, then C.J. Miles boldly volunteered for it and paid the price with injuries that shortened his season.
Ultimately, small ball was abandoned and more natural fits were given the assignment: Lavoy Allen started 28 games at power forward and Myles Turner 30. Allen, however, was ineffective in the playoff series with Toronto and Turner is being groomed to start at center in the upcoming season, so that leaves a hole Young will try to fix.
West's absence was sorely felt last season – literally in the case of Miles, who missed 22 games, many of them related to the beating he took trying to defend opponents weighing 20 or 30 pounds more than him. Young doesn't believe his playing style is all that similar to West's, but it seems likely he'll fill a similar role.
"Go out there and bring a lot of intangibles to the game," Young said. "I do a lot of things very well; nothing overly great. I'm a man of many traits. I can rebound, I can score, I can pass, I can get steals, I can defend. There's a lot of different aspects to my game that can show. When we're down I can bring the energy."
McMillan has seen enough in the informal workouts at Bankers Life Fieldhouse to be convinced he has a veteran replacement for the veteran who left a gaping hold last season.
"We get that true four we've been looking for (since West)," McMillan said. "In today's game, (Young) is a true four. He has the ability to handle the ball, he shoots the ball well, which is something we haven't seen in Brooklyn or Minnesota. He takes the challenge of defending. He enjoys the defensive end of the floor. He's a two-way player who should allow us a lot of versatility.
"He knows how to play the game."
Young has the look and sound of a future coach. His father coached him – with tough love – when he was growing up in Memphis, and he was an assistant coach at Victory University in Memphis when enrolled there to work on his degree during the NBA lockout in 2011. He also has an academic bent, though. His mother sent him off to a boarding school in Connecticut after his sophomore year in high school, and he earned good grades throughout. He was called on to speak to junior high school students while in high school, to motivate them to study hard.
Although he left Georgia Tech after his freshman year in 2007 to enter the NBA draft (and become the 12th overall pick by the 76ers), he has earned a degree in Business Administration, mostly with online courses. His wife did as well. She's planning to go on to earn a Master's degree. He's thinking about it.
For the moment, he's inclined to pursue a front office position after his playing career ends, but as a 28-year-old with nine seasons of experience he qualifies for coach-on-the-floor duties now.
"He's doing a lot of teaching," McMillan said. "He looks like a quiet guy. I'd never really seen him be very vocal on the floor when we played against him. But he's been here since early August, and in the drills he's stopping young players and teaching them. It wasn't something the coaches told him to do. It's good to see veterans helping teammates as far as how to screen, what to do once you screen, those kind of things."
The mystery of Young's game is his 3-point shooting, given the inconsistency in the quality and quantity of his shots behind the line. He's taken as many as 292 attempts in the 2013-14 season, and as few as four in the 2011-12 season. He's shot as well as 35 percent in the 2009-10 season, and as poorly as 12 percent (hitting 1-of-8 shots) in 2012-13. He hit 23 percent of his 30 attempts last season with the Nets.
He's up for whatever the offensive system calls for, but he continues to work on his perimeter shooting after practice and on his own. He believes accuracy will come with opportunity and the coach's blessing.
"It depends on who the coach is," he said. "Some coaches give you freedom to do certain things and some coaches don't."
Says McMillan: "We're going to have to let him go there some."
But only some. Turner will be given 3-point opportunities, drawing opposing centers away from the basket, which will create opportunity for Young – and others – to post up. That's part of the job description, too. So is a mid-range game. It's all part of the mix for a player who's anxious to display his multitude of wares for a team that appears to have a legitimate hope of going deep into the playoffs.
Young has played in the second round once, with Philadelphia in 2012, and lost in the first round four other times. Now, finally, he has a stable role on a team that could go where he's never gone before.
"I've been on some teams with some pretty good players, but by far this is the best team I've been on as far as having those 'names' and certain pieces to play with," he said.
He's buying in.
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