Thad Young Reportedly Gets Unenviable Task of Replacing Kevin Love in Minnesota

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Thad Young Reportedly Gets Unenviable Task of Replacing Kevin Love in Minnesota
David Dow/Getty Images

Thaddeus Young has reportedly found himself a new home with the Minnesota Timberwolves, who, in turn, expect him to fill the unfillable shoes Kevin Love leaves behind.

Talk about unenviable pressure. 

Mark Perner of the Philadelphia Daily News brings word that the Philadelphia 76ers are involved in the trade that Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski says will land Love with the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Sixers will apparently send Young to the Timberwolves—who instantly become the Timberpups without Love—in exchange for Anthony Bennett, the No. 1 overall draft pick from 2013. 

Tom Moore of Calkins Media preaches caution on the circumstances of said transaction:

Pity the fate of Young here if this deal, or a separate one, goes through. Not because Minnesota is a post-apocalyptic slough ruled concurrently by Brock Lesnar and Prince. It isn't.  

Don't cry for him because Love's (likely) departure removes the Wolves from playoff contention, ensuring their decade-long playoff drought lives on while ruining their future. The Timberwolves, all things considered, are going to be fun to watch. Ricky Rubio, Zach LaVine and Wiggins make for must-watch transition finishes. 

Ache for Young because the Timberwolves see him as someone he's not. They view him as a "replacement" for Love, according to ESPN.com's Marc Stein; they consider him a solution to the immediately unsolvable. 

They're making him the followup act for an on-court performance he cannot rival. Because Young isn't Love. Young is Young, and Love is Love. Now Young must find that balance between being himself and morphing into someone who can begin to replace what Love does.

 

What Young Does

Bill Baptist/Getty Images

There's nothing to worry about on the defensive end.

At 6'8", Young can defend the 3 and 4 positions. Opposing forwards averaged a combined player efficiency rating of 25.3 against him last season, according to 82games.com, but Philly's system was a mess. The Sixers ranked first in possessions used per 48 minutes, which creates more opportunities for opposing clubs, and their team defense was utter chaos, easily exploited and incinerated by screens and any kind of dribble penetration.

Calling their defensive sets chaotic actually isn't fair...to us, because it implies that more than one or two trend-busting anomalies played defense, which just isn't true. 

Within the right system, on a team that isn't blatantly trying to lose, Young can defend just as well, if not better than Love. He's already a better rim protector, out-blocking Love 196-173 since the bearded hotshot entered the league in 2008. 

Bigger bulks of Young's total win shares typically come on the defensive end, too. More than 65 percent of his win shares came on the defensive side last year, compared to Love's 25.9 percent.

Also, this:

The only exception is 2012-13, when Love played in a whopping 18 games and amassed 1.1 total win shares. Put an asterisk on that season and embrace the movement: Young is going to be a defensive upgrade over Love.

Nothing is lost in the athleticism department, either.

Love is not unathletic. He's the victim of stereotypical assumptions, hunches and beliefs. He runs the floor pretty well for someone his size, and his outlet passes are precise enough that he would start under center for the Minnesota Vikings.

But Young is an athletic freak. He can be a beast in transition when he doesn't over-dribble; he even added the fast-break three to his repertoire last season, connecting on 39.1 percent of his bombs in transition, according to Synergy Sports (subscription required).

When he puts the ball on the floor and sees an opening, he's like a slender freight train. Good luck stopping him. That amalgam of explosion, agility and nimbleness is rare. 

All of which makes Young a solid addition for the re-rebuilding Timberwolves.

Except for the fact that, you know, Young still isn't Love.

 

What Young Doesn't Do

Cameron Browne/Getty Images

Absence of playoff berths aside, Love spoiled the Timberwolves for a half-decade or so with his evolving offensive game.

Stretch forwards aren't oddities anymore, but players like Love are. He's a rebounding machine who can score on or off the ball while serving as a secondary playmaker. 

Exactly zero of those attributes apply to Young. He's not the playmaker Love is, though he has improved. He's not the rebounder Love is, though he does enough of it. 

Most importantly, he's not the scorer Love is. Not even close. 

Dropping 17.9 points a game is nothing to scoff at, but Young's 2013-14 numbers came on the tanktastic Sixers and in ways that aren't conducive to the Timberwolves offense. 

Minny doesn't need another ball-brandishing scorer. It has the rock-wielding Rubio and Nikola Pekovic already, and Wiggins should be on the way. What it needs is a potent offensive option who doesn't need the ball to score.

That is not Young.

Although 17.5 percent of his field-goal attempts came as a standstill shooter, he connected on 33.2 percent of them, per Synergy. Worse, he drilled only 28.7 percent of his spot-up threes. Love, meanwhile, nailed a lethal 37.9 percent of his standalone three-pointers.

Spending three seasons under Doug Collins' care didn't help Young. Almost as soon as he began integrating the three-point shot into his arsenal, Collins took it away. Young attempted 302 treys through his second and third seasons, only to jack up a grand total of 34 over the next three, making only eight. 

Jim Mone/Associated Press
Love is too good a shooter and scorer for Young to replace.

Last year saw Young become a more willing chucker. And it wasn't pretty. He attempted a career-high 290 long-range balls but made only 90 (30.8 percent). 

Love sank 190 three-pointers last year alone; Young has put in 208 for his career, posting an unimpressive 32.1 percent conversion rate in the process—doubly troubling when you consider he's shooting 50 percent from the floor overall. 

Seven years deep into his career, the hope for change is minimal. Players almost always are who they are at this point. Substantial changes are scarce. But Steve McPherson of A Wolf Among Wolves maintains hope that Young can develop into that stretch 4 Minnesota needs: 

I wrote about him for the New York Times and HoopChalk prior to last season, essentially lauding his evolution into a true smallball power forward and noting that if he could add the 3-pointer back into his game — he shot ~35% in his second and third seasons — he could become even better. (Also worth noting that he was most successful from 3-point range on the left wing — Love’s favorite spot.)

This past season he did re-introduce the 3-pointer, but it didn’t go super well. He only shot 31% from 3-point range, but I think it’s worth remembering that he more or less hadn’t taken a 3-point shot in a game for three years (34 3PA in those three years combined) and that he was on an atrocious Sixers team where the offense wasn’t designed to get him 3-point looks. 

Cause for optimism is clobbered by one unassailable fact: Young's range is light-years behind Love's. 

Young's overall efficiency is buoyed by his rim-oriented attack. More than 48 percent of his total shot attempts came at the iron last season, yet that spot also accounted for roughly 62.9 percent of his total makes, according to NBA.com.

When you factor in all Love did for Minnesota, and his across-the-board versatility, replacing him is nigh impossible.

Supplanting him with Young—the Young of today—is impossible.

 

Replacing the Irreplaceable 

USA TODAY Sports

To wit: Young isn't a terrible fit in Minnesota. In certain areas, he's good for the team.

The Timberwolves played at the fourth-fastest pace last season, and they ranked seventh in points scored per transition possession, according to Synergy. Almost 22 percent of Young's made baskets came within fast breaks. 

They run, he runs.

They need defense, he provides defense.

They need talent, he, like Bleacher Report's Zach Buckley posits, is talent: 

The Timberwolves' present and future depends on getting this right. And that means not only maximizing Love's value on the trade market but also identifying someone to fill the spot he'll leave behind.

Young can be that player. He can be the key to basketball's next summer blockbuster.

Can he be that player right away? No, and there's the problem.

Love is too valuable to replace. He ranked third in total wins created (14.3) last season, trailing only LeBron James (15.9) and Kevin Durant (19.2), despite playing for a lottery-dweller. He became the first player in NBA history to maintain benchmarks of 26 points, 12 rebounds and four assists per game while also burying at least one three-pointer. 

Love is a superstar. Love is historical.

Thad isn't.

Can Thad Young replace Kevin Love for the Timberwolves?

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Can his largely ball-dominant stylings fit beside Rubio? Pek? Wiggins? Will he noticeably change his game seven years into his career?

Does he even have a puncher's chance of beginning to succeed Love?  

"I have not been traded," Young told CSN Philly's Dei Lynam.

Not yet he hasn't, but the rumor mill says he will be. If and when he is, Young will find himself in a new city, on a new team, trying to fill the gaping hole left by one of the league's 10 best talents.

Trying to replace what neither he nor anyone else can.

 

*Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference and NBA.com unless otherwise cited. 


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