Ice Trae: Young Steph or MCW 2.0?

Atlanta Hawks head coach Lloyd Pierce, left, talks with guard Trae Young during a game against the Miami Heat on Tuesday, Nov. 27 in Miami. (Lynne Sladky/AP)

Atlanta Hawks head coach Lloyd Pierce, left, talks with guard Trae Young during a game against the Miami Heat on Tuesday, Nov. 27 in Miami. (Lynne Sladky/AP)

Trae Young’s NBA career hasn’t started out as most people expected. The dynamic point guard came into the league as a highly touted shooter, and in a lesser sense, a gifted passer. So far Ice Trae (aptly named by Quavo on The Bill Simmons Podcast) hasn’t necessarily wowed with either.

It’s frequently discussed how hard it is to learn the NBA game as a rookie point guard. The game is even harder to learn when you’re 6-foot-2, 180 lbs and living in a world of giants with condor wingspans looking to rip the ball from you for a highlight dunk or send your shot 20 feet into the stands. That’s why Young’s shot is so important to his game.

Young’s counting stats look pretty solid on paper. 15.6 points, 7.6 assists and three rebounds per game are good numbers for a rookie. The problem lies in his efficiency. He averages 3.8 turnovers per game along with 37.8 percent shooting from the field and 24.8 percent from beyond the arc. There are 47 players shooting 14 or more shots per game this season. Among that group, Young is shooting the third-worst percentage from the field behind only Andrew Wiggins, a mostly inefficient mid-range chucker and Eric Gordon, whose shooting this season is by far a career low.

As for his three-point shooting, his most-hyped skill entering the league, he slots in among some pretty dreadful company with his percentage. There are four players this season shooting more than two 3-pointers per game with a 3-point percentage under 25 percent. That group is Young, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Josh Jackson and Jonathan Simmons. None of those players are known for their 3-point marksmanship and all of them 2.5 3-pointers or under per game. Young attempts 5.8.

Let’s expand this out to players that attempt nearly as many 3-pointers as Young or more every game. Among players that are shooting more than 5.5 3-pointers per game, Young has by far the worst percentage. The next closest is Donovan Mitchell at 28.1 percent.

So, as far as shooting goes, Trae Young isn’t necessarily looking like the next Steph Curry. Even in his rookie year, Steph shot one less 3-pointer per game than Young and shot 43.7 percent on those attempts. Obviously the league has changed since that time and defenses are keying in more on 3-point shooter, but not even cracking 25 percent is a problem.

There’s another big number-low efficiency player that played for a bad team and was thought to be a future star in the making just five seasons ago. His name is Michael Carter-Williams, and he’s on his fifth team in his sixth season in the league. His rookie year stats? 16.7 points, 6.3 assists and 6.2 rebounds per game on 40.5 percent shooting from the field and 26.4 percent from deep. It’s not an exact science, but as of right now, Young is looking more Carter-Williams than Curry.

To be fair, there are key differences between Carter-Williams and Young. Carter-Williams was never even remotely regarded as a shooter, and has never shot more than three 3-pointer’s per game. Young is only 20 years old and is putting up over five every night while trying to adjust to a further NBA 3-point line and figure out how to play in the best basketball league in the world.

Maybe what we really need to do is recalibrate our expectations for these players. Steph is a one-of-a-kind player who is an entire offense unto himself. He changed the way basketball is played with his mind-bending shots from all over the court and his ability to chuck off the dribble faster than some people can even blink. Young was never going to be Curry, but we can’t disregard the disappointment in his play so far.

Were Young’s shooting skills exaggerated coming out of his lone season at Oklahoma? Potentially, as he did shoot only 36 percent from 3-point range over the course of the whole season there. Yet he wasn’t playing with very great players in college and that’s a problem he’s still facing in the NBA, as the Hawks have one of the worst records in the league and it isn’t all Young’s fault. Still, the pressure is high with him after Atlanta selected Luka Doncic with the third pick in the draft and flipped him for Young and a pick in next year’s draft.

So far, Doncic and Young haven’t even been a comparison. The slightly thicc Euroleague standout is showing Young up in just about every facet of the game, and probably pissing off Hawks fans in the meantime.

Young doesn’t have to be incredible now, but he does have to improve his play in just about every area. Looking like rookie Michael Carter-Williams isn’t the worst thing you can do, but he better not shadow him six years into his career. Otherwise, a lot of salty Atlanta fans will be looking longingly at what could’ve been in Luka Doncic.


Zac Lane is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at zac.lane@uconn.edu.