'I Don't See It': NBA Scouts, Execs Doubting Trae Young After NCAA Tourney Exit

Jonathan Wasserman@@NBADraftWassNBA Lead WriterMarch 15, 2018

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

NBA scouting departments are turning on Oklahoma's Trae Young, whose historic freshman season ended with an 83-78 overtime loss to Rhode Island in the NCAA tournament. 

"I would not take him in the lottery," one scout responded after the game.

"Not a fan," replied an Eastern Conference executive. "Love his passion and dedication, but he must learn to be more efficient."

"I don't see it with him," said an executive from the Western Conference. "He's erratic with the ball, and he's a teaser. Volume shooter. I have concerns on him."

Though he leads the country in scoring and assists, questions have popped up over the legitimacy of his production, style of play, plummeting efficiency and defensive effort.

"As he matures, he's going to have to balance out his impulsive play, because while that's flashy and all of us love to see it when he's hot, it's not going to take you very far as a team," added another scout. "Defensively, he has to be better, plain and simple."

Despite going for 28 points, seven assists and five rebounds in the first round, Young showed unsettling negatives as well, including questionable 30-foot hero shots in crunch time, careless passing (six turnovers) and hands-down defense on shooters.  

Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

   

Reasons for Pessimism 

At 6'2", 180 pounds and with short arms, minimal explosiveness and a heavy reliance on threes (10.3 attempts per game, 36.1 percent) and free throws (8.6 attempts per game), Young has size and scoring limitations that concern scouts. 

"I believe only 15 percent of his field-goal attempts are in the mid-range," said the east-coast executive, who pointed out the need to be able to stop and pop inside the arc. "Can he get his shot off versus quality defense?"

Young was far less effective this season when his jumper was contested around the perimeter. 

Unguarded catch-and-shoot jump shots: 66.7 percent

Guarded catch-and-shoot jump shots: 35.3 percent

Young also had trouble finishing through length, converting just 48.0 percent (36th percentile) of his shots at the basket.

And then there is the question of how he'll adjust when NBA coaches take away his green light to dance with the ball or launch from deep. 

Defensively, there have always been concerns about his projection, even if the intensity was there. Oftentimes, it's not, which can be attributed to the fact that he spends so much energy working on offense. 

Either way, he's easy to screen and grades out below average as a pick-and-roll defender, giving up .864 PPP (29th percentile). And he doesn't have the length to challenge or change jumpers. 

Brad Tollefson/Associated Press

   

Reasons for Optimism 

"He's too young to jump off the wagon," said the second scout. "This isn't the final product, but he has a great foundation; he just has a lot to learn, and hopefully he is receptive to teaching."

The bar was raised so high after his scorching start that it's become easy to lose sight of his age and unmatched production. 

Even in the loss to Rhode Island, Young, 19 years old, carried a weak supporting cast to overtime against a higher seed. Oklahoma's second- and third-leading scorers combined to shoot 4-of-17. Young took over when the team needed him down the stretch of the second half. 

Some of his drop-off over the last month must be tied the fact that scouting reports are more detailed and opponents are pressuring him with extra defenders, knowing his teammates aren't overly threatening. 

His entire body of work still shows 27.4 points and 8.7 assists per game. 

   

Rethinking the Stephen Curry comparison 

Given his skinny physical tools, crafty ball-handling, YOLO shot selection and slick passing, comparisons to Curry were inevitable. 

They were also premature.

The comparisons were driven by similar size, athletic limitations and style of play. There is a major difference between calling Young the next Curry and suggesting he's Curry-like for his matching physique and skill set.

Whoever drafts Young—and it's starting to sound like it can be a team in the No. 8-14 range—isn't getting the league's next MVP. It will add a confident shot-maker and dazzling playmaker.

But scouts are now doubting the height of his ceiling and chances of becoming the NBA's next up-and-coming All-Star point guard.

Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

Who takes a chance on Young?

Heading into the NCAA tournament, the NBA lottery odds (based on standings) show the Chicago Bulls, New York Knicks, Charlotte Hornets, Los Angeles Clippers (via Detroit Pistons), Philadelphia 76ers (via Los Angeles Lakers), Denver Nuggets and San Antonio Spurs expected to pick in the second half of the lottery. 

There will be pressure on New York to gamble on Young, who'd give the Knicks a much-needed creator, something rookie Frank Ntilikina is not at the moment. 

The Clippers and 76ers could both use an additional ball-handler, and if he's on the board when San Antonio is selecting, the Spurs could possibly see Tony Parker as the ideal mentor for Young.

Whichever of these franchises (if any) select Young, it would reflect a significant commitment, given his ball-dominant approach.

Late-lottery teams will ultimately have a difficult decision to make on one of the most polarizing NBA prospects in years.

   

Stats courtesy of Synergy Sports Technology

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