GREENBURGH, N.Y. — Trae Young, the slender sharpshooter from Oklahoma who set college basketball ablaze last season, worked out for the Knicks on Tuesday. This was Young's first individual workout with an NBA team, and Young was also the first prospect the Knicks hosted this offseason.
Does that mean there's mutual interest?
On Monday night, Young dined with Knicks executives, who might hope the 19-year-old phenom is available when they are on the clock with the ninth overall pick in the NBA draft. That would be later than most experts expect Young to fall, but we've seen players push for specific teams before.
"They really wanted me to come out and work out for them. I wasn't doing too many workouts, but I wanted to do this one," Young told reporters at the Knicks' Westchester County training facility after his workout.
Young said he's scheduled to work out for the Orlando Magic (No. 6 pick), Atlanta Hawks (No. 3 pick) and Chicago Bulls (No. 7 pick). He expects to be drafted before the Knicks select at No. 9, according to a league source. Not surprisingly, though, he declined to say so when asked whether he believes he'll be an option for the Knicks if they remain in their current slot.
"I just hope I go to the right team, no matter what," Young said. "Whether that's [No.] 1, whether that's [No.] 9, it's not up to me. I just hope I get picked by the right team and the team that really wants me and a team where I can help and take it to the next level."
But there's a reason Young worked out for the Knicks. He might not want to fall to them, but as we get closer to the draft, it's becoming likelier that he will be available when it's their turn to select.
Young led Division I in scoring (27.4 points per game) and assists (8.7), but scouts have worried all year about how his game would translate to the NBA. He fizzled in the second half of the season, shooting just 39 percent from the field and 33 percent from deep during Big 12 play. He struggled finishing at the rim. His defense was lacking ("He doesn't guard anybody," one scout said). His shot selection was poor. Some scouts worry that his shot mechanics won't allow him to launch moonbeams from 30 feet out against bigger and quicker NBA defenders the way he did in college.
The predraft process hasn't helped Young dispel any of these concerns, either. He measured just less than 6'2" with an unimpressive 6'3" wingspan at the NBA Draft Combine—troublesome dimensions for any team looking to employ a switch-heavy defense. And last week, according to league sources, Young underwhelmed during a workout in front of executives in Thousand Oaks, California.
It'd be surprising if Young leapfrogged Deandre Ayton, Luka Doncic, Marvin Bagley III, Jaren Jackson Jr. or Mohamed Bamba and landed in the draft's top five. The Magic own the sixth pick, and they're in desperate need of a point guard. But would team president Jeff Weltman and general manager John Hammond—two executives who in recent drafts, especially when they were in Milwaukee together, prioritized length—be comfortable building around a diminutive guard like Young? And would new head coach Steve Clifford, a defense-first basketball lifer, be comfortable constructing a defense with Young at the point?
Perhaps. But also maybe not. The Bulls own the seventh pick; they already have Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine on the roster. That doesn't mean they can't draft Young, but it does mean they're less likely to. The Cavaliers have the eighth pick. It's silly to try to predict their offseason, let alone how they'll draft, given the uncertainty of LeBron James' future.
Even if Young would like to go earlier, it's not hard to envision a scenario where the Knicks have the opportunity to select him. The question, of course, is whether they'd be smart to do so.
Young, despite his warts, still has fans in NBA front offices. The reasons are simple. The NBA game is more open, which would provide Young with more space. Also, hand-checking has been legislated out of the game, a decision made precisely so that players like Young are given room to operate. Also, he'll look more effective and efficient playing alongside better players (he assisted on nearly half his teammate's baskets last season). Also, as Cleaning the Glass pointed out, Young's three-point percentage was dragged down by shots launched from outside of 30 feet, the type of shots he won't be asked to take in the NBA.
"I think the NBA game and the NBA style with the spacing with different shooters and different things on the perimeter, I think it really fits my game and it opens up when I'm on the court, it opens up the lanes for my teammates and driving lanes and stuff like that," Young said Tuesday. "I think my style of play will fit even better here at this level."
In many ways, the Knicks and Young would be a perfect match. Young has a ceiling higher than players typically available at No. 9. Frank Ntilikina, who's tall (6'7") and long and already one of the league's better perimeter defenders and also more of a secondary player on offense, would be an ideal backcourt partner. Young and Kristaps Porzingis, two players capable of launching from deep, could form a dynamic pick-and-roll combination. Porzingis is also one of the NBA's top rim protectors, which could help cover Young on defense.
And there are the off-court reasons, too. Young generates more public interest than any other prospect in the draft, and sometimes a team decides that business needs trump all.
And so maybe it was serendipitous for the Knicks that Young was the first prospect they hosted. Deciding whether to select him, if he falls, could be a decision the team's front office needs a month to figure out.