Prospect Profile: Trae Young

Leading up to the 2018 NBA Draft on June 21st, we will be using our NBA Draft Models (PNSP Model, Role Probability Model, and Similarity Scores) to investigate this year’s top prospects. These Prospect Profiles look at which stats affect NBA projections, present unique data points from a player’s stats, and give relevant comparisons to current NBA players. You can find all of our Prospect Profiles here or through the header menu above (NBA –> NBA Draft –> Prospect Profiles). In today’s article, we look at Trae Young.

Trae Young | PG | Oklahoma

#5 Model 284 PNSP Rank
#8 ESPN Rank
Age:
19.6
Physical Measurements:
6’2″ | 178 lbs | Wingspan: 6’4″
Notable Player Comps: Steve Blake | Luke Ridnour | Raymond Felton

School PTS/40 TRB/40 AST/40 STL/40 BLK/40
Oklahoma  30.9  4.4  9.8 1.9 0.3
Model 284
Ratings
PNSP All-Star % Starter % Bench % Non-NBA %
89.9 43% 38% 6% 13%

Trae Young came onto the NBA draft scene a bit later than other prospects (RSCI #20) partially due to his average size, but eventually, he was the most talked about player in college basketball. Young was lighting up defenses, splashing 3s, making Ricky Rubio-esque passes, and dropping 40-burgers weekly. On the other side of the court, Young’s defensive abilities, upside, and effort were frequently questioned.

College Production

Young led NCAA Division I in PTS/G (27.4), AST/G (8.7), usage rate (37.1%), and offensive box plus/minus (11.2). These are not just atop the ranks for this season, but atop most other historical seasons as well. His PTS/G and AST/G were both the 2nd highest marks ever for a Freshman. His OBPM is the best historical mark (2010 – present) for a freshman guard by a wide margin – the next closest players are D’Angelo Russell and Lonzo Ball at 8.7. Perhaps this more so articulates how poor Young’s supporting cast was, as there was only one other top 75 recruit on the Sooners, and really no other NBA talent.

His individual numbers didn’t always translate to wins – Oklahoma went one-and-done in both the Big 12 and NCAA tournaments, and finished 5-11 despite starting 14-2. Young struggled down the stretch individually as well – his PPG dropped from 30.1 to 24.7 in the second half of the season, while his AST/TOV ratio also dipped from 2.1 to 1.3. This was likely due to a combination of fatigue, facing stronger competition, and defenses focusing on him, coupled with the fact that it was a small sample of games. Either way, it will be exciting to see him in the NBA where we will undoubtedly be surrounded by more talent and will carry a more reasonable offensive load.

Profiles Well for an NBA Lead Guard

Young displayed elite shooting, creating, and distributing in college – basically exactly what you would look for in a modern lead guard / primary ball handler in the NBA (other than size). Using his deadly range and quick release, Young hit 36% on 328 three-point attempts (4th most in NCAA), including 36% (84/236) on NBA threes, per Will Schreefer. He was also an 86% free throw shooter on an impressive 8.6 attempts per game. Young easily knocks down pull-ups off the dribble and posted an incredible 48.6 assist percentage (led the NCAA). Couple those skills with his elite ball handling and craftiness, and he should be quite the threat in NBA pick-and-rolls.

One point Cole Zwicker has brought up regarding his shooting is that his numbers would be even better if he didn’t have to create most of his shots on his own – which shouldn’t be as much of an issue when playing with more offensive threats.

For the most part, our models see Young continuing to have success in these areas in the NBA. He projects as a good distributor and playmaker among other guards. Our models project Young to have success scoring the ball, especially via 3-pointers and free throws, and project him to continue to knock shots down with ease (albeit not at an elite rate for an NBA guard). While he projects to do some scoring at the rim, he will struggle to do so efficiently – more on this later.

Concerns for his NBA Role

While there is a lot to love about Young’s game, there are also some serious concerns, most of which are centered on his size and defense.

Young’s length (6-2 with a 6-4 wingspan) isn’t terrible, but he also has a slight frame (weighed 178 lbs at NBA combine), is not overly athletic/explosive, and did not show great defensive effort in college. That sounds like a recipe for disaster in the NBA, where we frequently saw undersized defenders get headhunted in the 2018 playoffs. How good would he have to be on offense to compensate for that? And how heavily are GMs going to weigh that when building their teams? It is possible that his defensive effort was somewhat a product of his ridiculous offensive workload, which his NBA team should be able to reign in. Regardless of the effort improving, his size and length likely make him a one position defender in the NBA.

On the offensive side of the ball, his size is also limiting to his projection as a finisher at the rim. At Oklahoma, he drew plenty of fouls but struggled to finish in traffic, which will become even harder against bigger, longer rim protectors in the NBA. His 51% shooting at the rim ranked in the 32nd percentile among NCAA guards, while he had above average FG% for a guard when shooting from all other areas of the floor. Our models project him to continue to struggle on inside shooting, though he should continue to draw plenty of fouls. If he can add some weight to his frame and develop better finishing skills, it will help keep defenders honest against him.

NBA Draft Model Rankings

Young’s sky high 89.9 PNSP ranks 5th in the 2018 draft class, and 2nd among guards behind only Luka Doncic. Young’s package of offensive abilities and college production certainly give him high upside, and the models are picking up on that, giving him the 4th highest All-Star probability at 43% in the draft (also 2nd among guards behind Doncic). Despite the concerns we have laid out, our models give him a low Non-NBA probability at 13% and see him as very likely to develop into an NBA starter or better (although, as we have mentioned before, by their nature draft models can undervalue defensive impact). Here are the historical guards with similar PNSP & Role Probability predictions to Trae Young:

Player Year PNSP All-Star Starter Bench Non-NBA
Tyreke Evans 2009 94.4 0.42 0.42 0.05 0.11
Markelle Fultz 2017 93.7 0.47 0.34 0.06 0.13
Evan Turner 2010 91.3 0.34 0.47 0.07 0.12
Trae Young 2018 89.9 0.43 0.38 0.06 0.13
Dwyane Wade 2003 87.0 0.39 0.34 0.07 0.20
Delon Wright 2015 86.7 0.31 0.36 0.14 0.20
Mike Conley 2007 81.6 0.33 0.50 0.00 0.17

There isn’t much meat in his Similarity Scores, as his highest score is just 83.8 (similar to what we saw with Jaren Jackson Jr.). Statistical comparisons are difficult as there really hasn’t been any players at Trae Young’s size and stature to produce the volume of scoring, shooting, and assists on his level of usage. Again, I don’t think there is much to conclude from these given the low scores, but this group is mostly smaller PGs that are good shooters and poor defenders, which does fit part of what we have described of Trae Young. Interestingly, our unbiased model did spit out the comparison to Stephen Curry that everyone loves to make, granted at a score of just 49.3, and FWIW Young did have lower rebounding and steal numbers that young Steph. Other than Curry, this group caps out at backup PGs (Steve Blake, Luke Ridnour, Raymond Felton):

Conclusion

Our models are high on Trae Young and see him having continued success as an NBA guard, especially in terms of outside shooting and creating. He has the tools to run a highly efficient, modern offense, and it is certainly in his range of outcomes to become one of the best offensive initiators in the NBA. That said, he will need to continue to be a knockdown shooter to ensure he has some sort of success at the next level, as there are reasonable questions about other areas of his game. The level of his overall NBA success will also depend on if he can become serviceable on defense, as his lack of size will put him behind the 8-ball in most scenarios.

Jonathan Givony’s latest mock draft has him going #7 to Chicago, which would be a nice fit next to Kris Dunn, as their strengths/weaknesses compliment each other well, although, assuming Zach LaVine is resigned, a Young-LaVine defensive pairing would be worrisome. The Knicks at #10 would also be a nice landing spot as a pick-and-roll partner with Porzingis and next to Frank Ntilikina, who’s less ball dominant than Dunn. Hopefully whichever team drafts him can find an efficient way to build their team around him and optimize his strengths. At the very least, I’m excited to see what he can do with some more talent around him.