Ranking Trae Young's 10 Best Performances of the Year
Trae Young owned the 2017-18 men's college basketball season.
His odds of winning the Wooden Award are getting worse by the day. His team probably doesn't deserve to make the Big Dance. And based on what I've seen on social media over the past two months, there's a good chance you're adamantly rooting for him and the Sooners to fail, because you're sick of everyone in the CBB media telling you how incredible he is.
Regardless, all future conversations about this season will eventually find their way back to Young, in the same way that one cannot possibly talk about the 2011 NCAA tournament without mentioning Kemba Walker, nor the 2008 tournament without Stephen Curry.
In light of that fact, we've decided to rank Young's 10 best single-game performances of the season.
Efficiency, volume, difficulty of opponent, location of the game, and whether Oklahoma won were all taken into consideration in this ranking process, roughly in that descending order of importance.
November 12 vs. Nebraska-Omaha
15 points, 10 assists, six rebounds, two steals, two blocks
This wasn't Young's biggest game by any means. He wasn't even named the KenPom.com game MVP of this one. But you never forget your first, and Young had a double-double in his collegiate debut.
November 15 vs. Ball State
22 points, 13 assists, two steals
Turns out that season debut wasn't a fluke. By dumb luck of TV programming, this game between teams in Oklahoma and Indiana was on a regional Fox Sports affiliate in Charlotte, and I ended up watching the whole thing. It was the most captivating 39-point blowout ever. Love at first sight does exist.
November 24 at Portland
33 points, eight assists, five rebounds, three steals
The Pilots were no match for Young in the first of his many 30-point performances. Despite impressive numbers across the board, this was easily one of the three worst opponents Oklahoma faced all season.
It'd be hard to justify putting this game against this opponent in the top 10, considering it wasn't one of his five best scoring performances, nor one of his top 15 games in assists.
November 30 vs. North Texas
32 points, 10 assists, three steals
Ho hum. Just another big performance against a team that hasn't amounted to much this season. By this point, Young was already averaging better than 28 points and eight assists per game. Slightly eclipsing both of those marks at home against the Mean Green wasn't all that noteworthy.
December 8 at USC
29 points, nine assists
This game didn't really stand out at the time because USC was struggling and we had already seen Young put up at least 28 points or 10 assists in each of his first seven games. He also missed a pair of free throws with three seconds remaining in a two-point game, giving the Trojans a chance to win the game. (They didn't.)
Plus, it happened on a Friday, which is typically the one night of the week that college basketball fans and analysts tune out and spend some time with friends or family. In retrospect, though, what a road performance against what was a preseason top-10 team.
January 3 vs. Oklahoma State
27 points, 10 assists, nine rebounds
From an efficiency standpoint, this wasn't his best performance. Young committed six turnovers, shot 1-of-6 from three-point range and only made 41 percent of his field-goal attempts. But Young fell one rebound shy of a triple-double, which can't possibly go unmentioned.
The main reason this game stands out, though, is that this was the point where it was clear that non-Oklahoma fans had begun to turn on Young. The dude went for 27, 10 and nine in a 20-point win over an in-state conference rival, but so many people focused on the negatives afterward, griping about his inefficiency.
January 9 vs. Texas Tech
27 points, 10 assists, four steals
As with the Oklahoma State game just discussed, efficiency was lacking in this one. Young shot just 7-of-23 from the field, his worst field-goal percentage in a win this season.
But because he only committed four turnovers in the process—and because this was one of Oklahoma's best wins of the season—this is the honorable mention that would have made the cut if there were one more spot available.
10. February 24 vs. Kansas State
Trae Young's Box Score: 28 points, seven assists, five rebounds, five turnovers, 7-11 FG, 6-10 3PT, 8-10 FT
February was neither friendly to Young nor to the Sooners.
The team went 1-7 and quickly became the most fiercely debated bubble team since Monmouth's "Bench Mob" got snubbed in 2016.
The player shot 25.0 percent from three-point range, averaging 21.9 points and 7.5 assists per game—quite the step backward from 40.9 percent, 30.3 points and 9.5 assists through the first 21 games. In seven of the eight games, Young had a KenPom.com O-rating of 110 or worse.
This performance worthy of a 145 O-rating against Kansas State was his one saving grace.
Young finally rediscovered his three-point stroke in the must-win affair. He drained one triple on Oklahoma's first possession and a second less than two minutes later. He already had 11 points by the time he missed his first shot. Young finished the first half 5-of-6 from the field with 18 points and three assists.
For 20 minutes, it felt like November or December again. And it broke the spirit of a Kansas State team that needed the win just as badly as Oklahoma did, if not more so. Young drained a step-back three just before the intermission, giving the Sooners an eight-point lead. The Wildcats never got back to within six.
9. December 22 vs. Northwestern
Trae Young's Box Score: 31 points, 12 assists, four turnovers, 9-16 FG, 8-13 3PT, 5-6 FT
Northwestern never came anywhere close to living up to the hype as a preseason AP Top 25 team. But at this point in the year, there was still hope the Wildcats could turn it around. They looked good in close losses to Purdue and Creighton and entered this game against Oklahoma on a four-game winning streak. A road win against the Sooners could have been just the catalyst they needed to right the ship.
Instead, Young and the Sooners obliterated Northwestern 104-78.
Even that margin doesn't do justice to the blowout, because it was 88-49 when Oklahoma finally took its foot off the gas.
It only took Young 17 minutes to get his double-double. He entered halftime with 28 points and 10 assists. He didn't record a single point or assist in the final 15 minutes and still ended up with one of his more impressive stat lines of the season.
Had he stayed in the game and continued to push the issue, he could have gone for 50, no problem.
8. January 20 at Oklahoma State
Trae Young's Box Score: 48 points, eight assists, five rebounds, two steals, seven turnovers, 14-39 FG, 8-20 3PT, 12-12 FT
Oklahoma went 9-1 in what we're ranking as Young's 10 best performances of the season. This was the lone loss. But, come on, there's no way we weren't going to include his career-high, 48-point game.
Yes, it took him 39 shots and seven turnovers to get those 48 points, but if you watched the game, it was apparent from the beginning that no one else on the team was going to accomplish much of anything.
Young tried to get his teammates involved early, but the rest of the Sooners started the game a combined 2-of-9 from the field with just two layups and three turnovers. They missed wide-open looks and forced contested shots that resulted in blocks. By the midway point of the first half, Oklahoma was down 25-6.
That's when Young decided to take matters into his own hands, eventually bringing the Sooners all the way back to take the lead.
Over the final 23 minutes (including overtime), Young either scored or assisted on 15 of Oklahoma's 16 made buckets. The one exception was a put-back slam on a possession with three offensive rebounds.
But that didn't stop the critics from pointing to the total number of field-goal attempts and the forced shots at the end of both regulation and overtime as "proof" that he's overrated and a bad teammate.
7. November 26 vs. Oregon (in Portland)
Trae Young's Box Score: 43 points, seven assists, four rebounds, three steals, four turnovers, 11-22 FG, 4-11 3PT, 17-18 FT
There's a good chance you weren't watching this game. It took place on an early Sunday afternoon on Thanksgiving weekend. Not only was it battling Week 12 of the NFL season for spectators, but it was also played at the same time as a more intriguing college basketball game between Texas and Gonzaga.
If you did miss it, just know that this is when Trae Young officially became a thing.
Young only scored three of Oklahoma's first 26 points, but he went wild from there. Young accounted for 40 of the Sooners' final 64 points in the 90-80 victory over the Ducks, including 19 of the last 20.
He did a lot of that damage from the free-throw line, sinking all 12 of his one-point attempts in the final nine minutes to keep Oregon at arm's length.
The remarkable thing about this performance is that it was his third high-usage game in less than 72 hours in the PK 80, yet he looked right as rain. He finished that weekend in Portland with 104 points and 20 assists, shooting 33-of-35 from the free-throw line.
It was in part because he played this well in quick-turnaround settings that it felt like he was destined to do something special in the NCAA tournament.
6. January 30 vs. Baylor
Trae Young's Box Score: 44 points, nine assists, four rebounds, six turnovers, 11-20 FG, 6-11 3PT, 16-19 FT
This is where it starts to get absurd.
Young is one of just two players in the past eight years to record at least 44 points and nine assists in a game. The other was Eastern Washington's Bogdan Bliznyuk, who did so in a 130-124 triple-overtime game. Young accomplished the feat in regulation in a two-point win over a conference rival.
The ridiculous part of this 44-point game is that he didn't do that much in the first half. In most of his big games, he dominated from the outset. In this one, though, Young only made three field goals in the first 20 minutes, entering the intermission with 13 points. Instead, he scored 31 of Oklahoma's 46 second-half points.
And it's only good enough to rank No. 6 on the list of his best games.
Part of the reason we docked this outing a bit is because Young struggled on defense while committing as many turnovers as Baylor did as a team (six). Had he been able to do anything to slow down Manu Lecomte (29 points, five assists, three steals), Young wouldn't have needed all those points and assists in a 98-96 barnburner.
Another part is that this was a home game against Baylor, which is almost as "easy" as it gets in the Big 12 this year.
Don't misinterpret that as a complaint about his play, though. Defense is never his forte, and it was only marginally worse than usual in this game. And six turnovers is only a fraction above his season average. But we had to split hairs to separate some of these top performances.
5. December 16 at Wichita State
Trae Young's Box Score: 29 points, 10 assists, four rebounds, four turnovers, 9-22 FG, 4-11 3PT, 7-7 FT
Through the first month of the season, this was little more than a fun story.
The Sooners were 7-1 with wins away from home against Oregon and USC. This made them a strong candidate to reach the NCAA tournament, but it wasn't enough for them to jump into the AP Top 25, nor for them to be taken seriously as a Final Four contender.
Likewise, Young was putting up fantastic numbers, but he was doing so against lackluster competition. Five of the first eight games were against teams well outside the KenPom top 100. And the three exceptions—Oregon, USC and Arkansas—are teams that still rank outside the top 75 in adjusted defensive efficiency.
This road game against Wichita State was going to be the one that either exposed them as frauds or cemented them as national championship and Wooden Award candidates.
Young scored 21 of Oklahoma's 54 points in the first half of a 91-83 win over the AP No. 3 Shockers, meaning the latter of those two options.
The game was billed as a head-to-head battle between Young and Landry Shamet, but the freshman clearly got the better of the redshirt sophomore who appeared in a lot of second- and third-team preseason All-American lists.
For Oklahoma, this game was much more than just Young, though. Brady Manek scored a (then) career-high 21 points. Kameron McGusty and Christian James both pitched in a baker's dozen. Jamuni McNeace was a force of nature in the defensive paint. If Young's supporting cast could play like this on something of a regular basis, the Sooners would still be in the conversation for a No. 1 seed.
4. January 13 vs. TCU
Trae Young's Box Score: 43 points, 11 rebounds, seven assists, nine turnovers, 15-27 FG, 10-18 3PT, 3-7 FT
TCU was Young's favorite opponent. Two of his four best performances of the season came against the poor Horned Frogs. His combined line in those games was 82 points, 21 assists and 15 rebounds with 16 made three-pointers.
The nine turnovers is the reason this one doesn't appear even higher on the list, but goodness gracious. The 10 made three-pointers and 11 rebounds are both still career highs for Young. At the time, the 43 points tied the career high that he set against Oregon. And he even found time to dole out seven dimes in the 102-97 overtime victory.
Toward the end of regulation, though, Young called his own number time and again.
Prior to a Christian James three-pointer with seven seconds remaining—which Young assisted on—the freshman phenom had scored 16 consecutive points for the Sooners. Alabama's Collin Sexton famously played three-on-five for 11 minutes against Minnesota earlier this season, but this was basically Young going one-on-five for nine minutes against a legitimate second-weekend caliber of opponent, more than holding his own in the process.
Young only scored five of the team's 13 points in overtime, but he did have a dagger three-pointer that put the Sooners ahead by their largest margin (five) in the final 16 seconds of the game.
3. December 19 vs. Northwestern State
Trae Young's Box Score: 26 points, 22 assists, four rebounds, four turnovers, 9-16 FG, 3-6 3PT, 5-7 FT
Northwestern State is one of the worst teams in the country. It normally plays at a breakneck pace, producing inflated per-game statistics, and it has not ranked in the top 300 in adjusted defensive efficiency in any of the past four seasons. The Demons have given up at least 100 points in 20 games in the past eight seasons.
If Young didn't have a big stat line in this game, it would have been alarming.
But 22 assists...and 26 points...in just 29 minutes.
Are you kidding me?
Level of competition was a strong consideration in the ranking process, but an exception needed to be made for this historic performance. After all, Northwestern State has played a lot of teams over the years, but none of its opponents accomplished anything like this.
In fact, dating back to the start of the 2010-11 season, there have only been four instances of a player recording at least 18 assists in a game against any opponent. None of the other three players reached 20 assists nor 20 points. And the best of the bunch—Phil Pressey went for 19 and 19 in 2012—needed 44 minutes in an overtime game to reach those marks.
Young had 15 points and 13 assists by halftime and added another 11 and nine after the intermission, despite playing limited minutes in the second half. It was like watching someone play a video game on its easiest setting in order to pad his stats.
2. January 23 vs. Kansas
Trae Young's Box Score: 26 points, nine assists, four rebounds, two steals, five turnovers, 7-9 FG, 2-3 3PT, 10-12 FT
From a volume standpoint, this game has no business landing this high on the list. Young has scored at least 43 points four times this season, but a 26-point outing with nine assists is his second-best of the year?
What sense does that make?
For starters, this was Oklahoma's biggest win of the season, and it was one of Young's most efficient performances. Those aren't mutually exclusive details. While this wasn't one of his "Step aside, guys, I got this" games, there's no question Young was the primary reason the Sooners beat the Jayhawks.
(If nothing else, needing to guard Young for 40 minutes had an obvious adverse effect on Devonte' Graham on the other end of the floor. He shot just 4-of-19 from the field in one of his worst performances of the season.)
Moreover, this efficient game came at the point where he was under the most scrutiny for his ball-hogging ways. Three days prior to this was the afternoon where Young jacked up 39 shots in an overtime loss to Oklahoma State, followed by an insufferable number of op-eds about Young doing more harm than good for the Sooners.
Clearly, he heard the criticisms. Not only did he just take nine shots in this statement win, but in his postgame interview with Holly Rowe, he apologized to his fans for trying to do too much by himself in recent games.
It wasn't a permanent change. He took at least 16 shots in each of his next seven games. But this was the night where he proved he can play within himself and carry the team to victory. The deep threes are fun, but that leadership is what will make an NBA team think about taking him in the top five in the draft.
1. December 30 at TCU
Trae Young's Box Score: 39 points, 14 assists, four rebounds, two steals, seven turnovers, 9-23 FG, 6-14 3PT, 15-18 FT
Young's home/road splits in Big 12 play are staggering.
In eight Big 12 games at Lloyd Noble Center (prior to the season finale against Iowa State), Young averaged 31.6 points while shooting 48.3 percent from the field and 46.8 percent from three-point range. On the road, though, those numbers plummet to 25.0, 34.0 and 24.3, respectively.
He averaged a ridiculous 1.72 points per field-goal attempt at home and a pedestrian 1.14 on the road. Given that information, it should come as no surprise that Oklahoma is 6-2 at home and 1-8 on the road in league play.
The one exception to the rule was this road game against TCU, which makes the 39 and 14 stand out even more.
At 9-of-23 and 6-of-14, he only shot 39.1 percent from the field and 42.9 percent from three-point range, yet those were his best numbers in both categories in nine Big 12 road games. It was also one of just two times in league play that he made more than three triples in enemy territory.
Young either scored or assisted on 23 of 29 made field goals in the game, and the Sooners needed every last one of those points and assists while storming back from a 13-point second-half deficit for a 90-89 victory. The freshman even stepped to the free-throw line down by one with eight seconds remaining and coolly drained the game-tying and game-winning freebies.
Back before we knew the Sooners would proceed to lose 11 of their next 17 games, this was the performance that appeared to cement Young as the inevitable Wooden Award winner while putting Oklahoma on the projected No. 1 seed line for the NCAA tournament. Things obviously changed a bit from there, but what a capstone on the first 12 games of the season this was.
Kerry Miller covers men's college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter, @kerrancejames.