Trae Young’s career with the Oklahoma Sooners has taken off, and he’s emerged as one of college basketball’s most tantalizing players.
Like many of his five-star contemporaries, Trae Young had the opportunity to join a powerhouse program with plenty of star power. He garnered offers from both Kentucky and Kansas, but eventually selected the University of Oklahoma, which is about three miles from where he attended high school. As we’ve seen in recent years, highly-touted prospects bypassing the behemoths of college basketball doesn’t automatically guarantee success, no matter how talented the player is (see: Simmons, Ben; Fultz, Markelle). With Young, the Sooners are smoking and making some actual noise.
Lon Kruger has given the freshman complete control of the third-most robust offense in the country. Despite standing 6-2 and weighing 180 pounds soaking wet, Young attracts multiple defenders like a magnet, and he’s an electrifying playmaker well beyond his years.
After eight games, Young is the country’s leading scorer at 28.8 points a night. He’s also third in assists at 8.8, but that mark is enough to top the Big 12. He’s able to post numbers like this thanks to an inflated usage percentage of 35.3. The excessive workload is hardly bothersome, however, and Young boasts a breathtaking 64.4 true shooting percentage — 59.7 on twos, 37.7 from three, 86.3 at the line.
Even with 260 minutes logged thus far and an offense that’s entirely reliant on him, Young hasn’t deteriorated because of the way he plays. He’s not the most explosive guy in college. That’s fine. And the only reason that’s fine is Young isn’t going out and trying to be something he isn’t. Not every guard will jump out of the building like Russell Westbrook or go baseline-to-baseline to four seconds like John Wall. Without athleticism, craftiness is the next-best thing. A player can survive on that at the next level. In fact, the NBA’s best point guard does.
One cannot be a crafty guard without a firm handle on the basketball, and Trae Young has that. He manipulates defenders with an array of dribbles moves, sprinkling in hesitations that are lethal because of his extraordinary ability to change speeds. Once Young gets that step, he contorts his body to keep longer defenders on his hip, rendering them useless by preventing them from poking the ball away. It doesn’t stop there, though. He then punctuates his drive with a floater or a gliding layup, which depends on how the defense plays him. If all else fails, he can send himself to the line, where he’s gotten 73 attempts so far.
As a team, Oklahoma, who’s 7-1, makes Young’s life easier.
Kruger only goes about nine guys deep, but Christian James (12.8 points) and Khadeem Lattin (10.4 points) are sidekicks who serve as reliable options. Below them, the other guys are capable of five-to-eight points. Young’s decision-making has been marvelous thus far, and he’s maximizing everyone’s skill sets while keeping the game under control. He averages 3.8 turnovers to his 8.8 assists. That’s not great on the surface, but we have to look deeper when dealing with high-usage players.
Any player who’s ball-dominant is going to put up significant numbers across the board. With Young, he’s assisting on 46.8 percent of his teammates’ field goals while committing about 14 turnovers per 100 possessions (the actual number is 14.4 percent). This year, there are five players with an assist percentage greater than 45 and a turnover percentage less than 15 while averaging at least 25 minutes a game:
- Erick Neal, Texas-Arlington
- Darrian Ringo, Miami (OH)
- Jordon Talley, UNC-Wilmington
- Cassius Winston, Michigan State
- Trae Young, Oklahoma
Young is the only freshman on the list. He and Winston are the sole players representing a Power Five conference. Above all else, the youngest of the five has separated himself. His turnover percentage is the second-lowest behind Talley, and Young’s — by far — the most feared scorer of the five.
There is one part of Trae Young’s game that makes everything else far more potent — his three-ball. Only two players in the conference have bested Young’s 29 made threes. Per 40 minutes, he’s hoisting up 14.8 attempts from downtown, an example of how much he utilizes the longball to open everything else. The conversation is vastly different if Young shoots a lesser percentage, but that’s not likely.
He’s one of those guards who can pull up from anywhere and be a threat. It’s remarkable. At least once a game, Young’s letting it fly from miles beyond the college three-point line, and we’ve seen how that range can put the defense in a predicament. When the player doing that is strictly a shooter, it’s not a problem. Someone of Young’s caliber is dangerous because they’re a master reader of the defense, and, if you’re guarding him, it’s almost impossible to find the sweet spot between being too close and sagging too far.
The all-around excellence of Trae Young to start the season is incredible. It feels like he can do no wrong. Shots are falling from all over the court, and the ability to score at all three levels should translate relatively seamlessly to the pro ranks. On top of that, his vision is top notch. He’s already had memorable performances against Oregon (43 points, seven assists) and USC (29 points, nine assists), and few guards are playing better ball than him at this juncture.
There are still questions about his game, but it’s early in the season. If Young continues this while going against much tougher opponents, his draft stock will rocket.
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