'He Isn't Fake': NBA Scouts Describe What's Behind Trae Young's Star Potential

Jonathan Wasserman@@NBADraftWassNBA Lead WriterJanuary 11, 2018

Oklahoma guard Trae Young (11) celebrates after the 90-89 win over TCU in an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Dec. 30, 2017. (AP Photo/ Richard W. Rodriguez)
Richard W. Rodriguez/Associated Press

NBA scouts are buying into Oklahoma's Trae Young more by the week. 

The 30-foot step-backs, the pull-ups from the logo and the YOLO passes may have seemed gimmicky or flukey at first. But some scouts who initially expressed hesitation have admitted to Bleacher Report they're now finding it easier to picture his game translating at the pro level.

Many are starting to look past the physical flaws that typically raise questions when evaluating for the NBA. They don't seem leery about his unprecedented stats, despite the fact he has the highest usage rate in college basketball, per Sports-Reference.com

"His production speaks for itself. No need to overthink," one Eastern Conference scout said. "He leads the nation in scoring and assists while being game-planned for by every opponent. His skills and vision make up for average athleticism."

"The spacing of the NBA, his shooting and passing, I think he's going to be good," a scout from the West said. "He has that mentality, too. He legitimately wants to be good. He isn't fake."

MORGANTOWN, WV - JANUARY 06:  Trae Young #11 of the Oklahoma Sooners drives against Jevon Carter #2 of the West Virginia Mountaineers at the WVU Coliseum on January 6, 2018 in Morgantown, West Virginia.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

With scouts gaining confidence in Young's success carrying over, the next question—from an evaluation and projection standpoint—is deciding out how he stacks up with everyone else. 

Though scouts still sound reluctant to move him atop their boards—firmly ahead of surefire top picks such as Arizona's Deandre Ayton, Slovenia's Luka Doncic, Duke's Marvin Bagley III and Missouri's Michael Porter Jr.—it seems like Young is knocking on the door. 

"To me, he's a top-10 pick, and I think when you get to the No. 7-10 range, he's one of the only guys who has star potential," a third scouted added. 

Reaching his star potential would mean defying the rule that says size, explosiveness and length fuel upside. But we've seen too many success stories over the years about point guards who excel with skill and IQ over tools and bounce, from Stephen Curry, Young's most popular comparison, to Isaiah Thomas, Kyrie Irving, Mike Conley, Kemba Walker, Steve Nash and Tony Parker.


No college player in over 25 years has finished a season averaging at least 26 points and eight assists. Young, who's putting up 29.2 and 10.1 through 15 games, remains on track to set records at 19 years old. 

How is he doing it? And what are the specific strengths of Young's offensive attack that suggest he can continue to score and distribute at a high level in the NBA? 

               

Key Synergy Sports Numbers

Floaters: 1.368 PPP, 98th percentile 

Dribble Jump Shots: 1.092 PPP, 87th percentile

The most notable area where Young has struggled has been finishing around the rim in the half court (43.9 percent). That's why it's so encouraging he's developed an elite floater.

He's made 12 of his first 19. For comparison's sake, Alabama's Collin Sexton, a fellow top NCAA/lottery prospect, is 2-of-12. In 25 games last year, 2017's No. 1 overall selection Markelle Fultz, another scoring point guard, made 11-of-29. Lonzo Ball, the second pick, made four floaters all season. 

Young has made 8-of-9 floaters dribbling over ball screens, something his future NBA coach will likely send him frequently, given the dual threat he presents in the pick-and-roll game. 

            

Pick-and-Roll Passes (44.7 Percent of Pick-and-Roll Offense): 1.193 PPP, 84th percentile 

Young's playmaking has been equally impressive as his scoring, particularly out of pick-and-roll sets (39.9 percent of offense), where he's been excellent at freezing the defense with hesitation and using it to create scoring chances for teammates.

He's been most effective hitting the roll man (18-of-27), though he's seemingly flashed every dish in the bag already, from bounces through traffic and finesse passes over the top to quick-delivery one-handers with the right or left.

           

Isolation (11.7 Percent of Offense): 1.041 PPP, 83rd percentile

While Young generates most of his offense out of pick-and-rolls (39.9 percent) and transition (23.9 percent), he's also one of the most efficient isolation scorers in the country. He's generating 1.258 PPP on isolation pull-ups and drives, ranking in the 92nd percentile.

He's best at the top of the key (10-of-20), where many final shots of quarters, halves or games will ultimately start from.

Young has even stood out as a passer out of isolation, generating 1.688 PPP (98th percentile) and showing he can use space to beat his man and set the table—not just hunt for his own shot.

           

NBA Shooting Range

Whether he finishes at 35 percent or 40 percent from deep won't matter to scouts evaluating his shooting. Young's shot-making ability is undeniable (3.9 per game).

Of his 58 threes so far, 26 have come from 25 to 35 feet out, where he's difficult to challenge given how vulnerable defenders become to getting blown by when forced to guard that far away.

Though he doesn't spend much time working off the ball, he's even been lights-out shooting off screens (9-of-14). 

MORGANTOWN, WV - JANUARY 06:  Trae Young #11 of the Oklahoma Sooners pulls up for three against the West Virginia Mountaineers at the WVU Coliseum on January 6, 2018 in Morgantown, West Virginia.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

              

Watch to Watch For

Young ran into trouble this week during two conference matchups, one with West Virginia's Jevon Carter, arguably the nation's top perimeter defender, and another against Texas Tech, which ranks third in the country defensively, per KenPom.com.

Young came off like he was trying to prove something on the road at West Virginia, rushing shots and overthinking while being taunted by the crowd. And in Oklahoma's Tuesday night win over the Red Raiders, Young started cold and wound up forcing wild drives to try to get himself going early.

He still managed to score 29 points in the West Virginia loss before leading his team on a second-half run to surge past Texas Tech, finishing with 27 points and nine assists. The fact that he's generating offense in extreme volume—even on off days—may jump out as a comforting selling point to evaluators on the fence.

Looking ahead, scouts will still be watching to see how Young handles the grind of Big 12 conference play, especially given all the attention he's receiving from opponents and the media.

There are a number of key matchups on Young's schedule, including a January 23 game against Kansas' Devonte' Graham and a showdown with Alabama's Sexton the next game. A rematch against Carter on February 5 will also draw extra attention from scouts who'll be itching to see how Young bounces back, both mentally and fundamentally. 

Either way, all signs point to Young's name flying up draft boards across the league. The rise is real. It appears he's permanently earned a spot at the table with the other lottery and top-10 candidates.

He'll have plenty of chances over the next three months to strengthen his case even further before the draft.

               

All advanced stats courtesy of Synergy Sports Technology unless otherwise noted. All quotes obtained firsthand.

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