'I Still Believe in Him': NBA Scouts Aren't Giving Up on Slumping Trae Young

Jonathan Wasserman@@NBADraftWassNBA Lead WriterFebruary 21, 2018

Oklahoma guard Trae Young (11) gestures following a call in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Texas in Norman, Okla., Saturday, Feb. 17, 2018. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)
Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

Questions about Trae Young's NBA potential have started to arise during his cold-shooting February. Specifically, many wonder how his ongoing slump is affecting his draft stock.

After averaging 30.3 points on 45.2 percent shooting while leading Oklahoma to a 16-5 start, Young has struggled during the Sooners' current six-game skid, averaging 21.5 points on 33.6 percent shooting.

Bleacher Report polled a number of NBA scouts to get a feel for how teams view Young during the rockiest stretch of his season. Opinions varied, but most aren't ready to bump him down their draft boards. They will, however, be paying close attention to how he responds to this slump.

"If you are a Trae Young fan, the slump does not affect your thinking at all," one scout replied. "Late-season slumps rarely affect a whole body of work."

"I still believe in him," another scout said. "Teams are targeting him with their best defender, double-teams and pressure. He needs his teammates to step up, and they're not. Put him with four pros and things are different. I respect that Trae still plays hard and that he still gets assists."

Young also has a key booster in LeBron James, who had previously seen him play at a Nike camp while he was still in high school. While speaking with reporters about what adjustments Young needed to make to succeed in the NBA, James said, "How much money he's gonna spend monthly, and how much he gonna save. That's the only adjustment he gotta worry about."

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Everyone seems to recognize Young's suspect supporting cast and the enormous workload that forces him to carry, as reflected in his nation-leading 37.8 percent usage rate, per RealGM.com

"He doesn't have a ton of help around him, and the way Oklahoma plays, so heavily dependent on Trae, it puts crazy pressure on his shoulders," a third scout said. 

"As film piled up and teams get to play him twice, I think it becomes easier to zero in and attack his weaknesses," a fourth added. 

Young has struggled at times when defenses pick him up early or trap on ball screens. He leads the country in turnovers (142), and he's just 7-of-26 on early jump shots out of pick-and-rolls, per Synergy Sports.


Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

While scouts aren't sounding many alarms, some believe Young's struggles could prevent him from making a push toward the top of draft boards.

Prior to February, scouts were taking Young seriously as a top-10 pick, but many felt it was still too early to place him in the draft's elite tier with players like Arizona's Deandre Ayton and Slovenia's Luka Doncic.

"Maybe by the NCAA tournament, but I need a bigger sample size before putting Young in that mix," a scout told Bleacher Report in early January. 

"Perhaps if he were playing a 50-game season, he'd have time to make a counter-adjustment," the third scout said. "But at his age, without a ton of help, you're seeing him get frustrated by the adjustments, and I'm not sure he'll have the time to finish on a high note."

Young's stock isn't falling—it just isn't climbing. And it isn't likely to move much during the predraft process. His ordinary size (6'2", 180 pounds) and athleticism don't figure to turn heads at workouts. But that is counterbalanced by his signature shooting and ball-handling skills.

In projecting the draft after talking with scouts, Young's recent inefficiency and his team's struggles could raise just enough hesitation to keep teams from reaching on him in the top five, particularly with Michigan State's Jaren Jackson Jr. and Texas' Mohamed Bamba making intriguing late-season pushes.

Nobody seems to be panicking or jumping ship, however. Scouts remain intrigued by Young's unprecedented production, scoring, playmaking potential and fearlessness. 

Brad Tollefson/Associated Press

Despite his three-point stroke going cold, Young still reached 100 long-range makes faster than any freshman in over 25 years, per Sports Reference. His volume allows him to produce despite poor-shooting performances, as evidenced by his per-game averages of 21.5 points and 8.0 assists during Oklahoma's current losing streak.

Alabama's Collin Sexton, another potential lottery guard, hasn't had a single 20-point, eight-assist game. 

Young hasn't used the second half of conference play to climb up big boards and strengthen his case, but the rough patch isn't changing scouts' opinions. He's cemented himself into the top-10 discussion, just behind the bigger, stronger and/or bouncier draft-eligible teenagers perceived to present less risk. 


Bleacher Report's updated draft board

1. Deandre Ayton (Arizona, C, Freshman)

2. Luka Doncic (Slovenia, PG/SG, 1999)

3. Michael Porter. Jr. (Missouri, SF/PF, Freshman)

4. Jaren Jackson Jr. (Michigan State, PF/C, Freshman)

5. Trae Young (Oklahoma, PG, Freshman)

6. Mohamed Bamba (Texas, C, Freshman)

7. Marvin Bagley III (Duke, PF/C, Freshman)

8. Mikal Bridges (Villanova, SF, Junior)

9. Wendell Carter Jr. (Duke, PF/C, Freshman)

10. Kevin Knox (Kentucky, SF/PF, Freshman)


Jackson has been the highest riser in February, moving ahead of Young with his three-point shooting (43.8 percent), elite rim protection (14.6 block percentage) and signs of improved off-the-dribble ability, a valued mix NBA teams covet.

Bagley has fallen the most due to increasing concern about his defense and NBA fit. After Duke lost three of four games with him playing at least 34 minutes in each, it has now won three straight while he's been sidelined with a knee sprain. 

As always, the draft order will play a role in who goes where.

The Phoenix Suns, Atlanta Hawks, Dallas Mavericks, Orlando Magic, Sacramento Kings and Memphis Grizzlies are all tied with a league-low 18 wins. The Brooklyn Nets have 19 wins, but they'll give their pick to the Cleveland Cavaliers. 

Of those franchises, the Suns and Magic have the biggest need for a point guard. The Kings rank last in the league in offensive efficiency, per ESPN.com, while the Grizzlies are 27th. The Hawks may see Young as an upgrade over Dennis Schroder. 

On the other hand, the Suns, Hawks, Mavericks and Kings also have needs at the 4 or 5, and there won't be any shortage of bigs in that draft range.

If those teams each decide to address their frontcourts, the Cavaliers, Chicago Bulls and New York Knicks could be next in line for Young based on the current standings. It's difficult to imagine him falling past all three of those organizations, regardless of how he finishes the season.

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