Trae Young, Hawks Think Steph Curry Comparisons Miss the Target

Will Gottlieb@@wontgottliebFeatured Columnist INovember 14, 2018

Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young against the Golden State Warriors during an NBA basketball game in Oakland, Calif., Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2018. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

OAKLAND, Calif. — Though he didn't have the chance to play against him in Tuesday's 110-103 loss to the Golden State Warriors, Trae Young has had plenty of chances to watch Stephen Curry play for the past 10 seasons.

Four points on 2-of-12 shooting (0-of-5 on three-pointers) was far from his most dazzling Curry impression, but Young has drawn from the two-time MVP's game. From the unconscionable long balls to his patented celebration, there are some similarities—and quite a few differences.

"They're light-skinned, they're 6'2" shooters that can pass," first-year Atlanta Hawks head coach Lloyd Pierce said with a laugh. "So it's an obvious comparison from that standpoint, but I think their games have been different."

In fact, not much is similar. Whereas Curry is a key cog on a stacked roster, Young operates as the engine on a young team.

"I think they're different players, honestly," Pierce continued. "When Steph came out of Davidson, he was, and still is, one of the best catch-and-shoot, off-the-ball players that we've seen. It's different. Trae comes in as the leader in the nation last year in assists, and a lot of his threes were off the dribble, which is different for a college player.

"So, he's used to having the ball in his hands, Trae is. And when Steph came in the league, he was used to playing without the basketball. One of the things Steph had to learn and grow into was a guy that plays with the basketball, and one of the things Trae has to grow into is to play without it.

Pierce is on the money. Thirty percent of Curry's field goals are spot-up threes, compared to only 13.2 percent of Young's shots. Meanwhile, Curry and Young shoot approximately the same number of threes off the dribble. Those off-dribble threes are eye-grabbing, but let's wait for Young to start hitting some shots before we anoint him the second coming.

The speed of the NBA game takes some adjusting to, but Young is shooting only 26.7 percent on threes. Curry is on another plane of existence.

Steph vs. Trae play-type frequency
Steph vs. Trae play-type frequencySynergy Sports

"We both shoot the ball really well," Young told Bleacher Report, "but he's shooting it at a super-high level—probably the best shooter of all time. We definitely have similarities with that, but there's also things that are different."

Nearly 40 percent of his offense comes out of pick-and-rolls, compared to less than 25 percent for Curry. Curry comes off screens, spots up and uses transition more than Young, who gets a lot of dribble handoffs and isolations to initiate his offense.

Lloyd disagreed about the quantity of isolations and explained it as using Young to create offense for the team: "Not really isolations. The way we move, it may look as if they're isolations, but we're trying to create gaps, driving gaps for all our guys."

Despite Curry having almost five more possessions per game than Young, Curry gets so many shots in the flow of his team's offense, whereas Young is the primary creator for both himself and his teammates.

"There's a few differences," Young added. "The style of play, the way we play, there's more opportunity for me to be on the ball, make more isolation plays. Things like that."

Part of this is because of the massive responsibility Young is shouldering. His 28.7 usage rate ranks in the top 20 of the NBA, and just comparing him to the rest of the league doesn't do it justice. Young is one of 14 rookies in the history of the league with a usage rate above 28 percent. Plus, he's sixth on that list in true shooting percentage. No, Young is not an efficient and volume scorer just yet, but he's on that path.

Obviously, Curry's supporting cast has a substantive effect on how he gets his offense. He has multiple All-NBA talents around him, and he's selfless enough to share plenty of looks. Young isn't yet so fortunate, as the Hawks have some building blocks but no stars.

Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

That has not added pressure for Young, whose 43.6 percent assist rate ranks 19th in the league. It's in his nature. No rookie has ever finished a season with a usage and assist rate as high as Young's current marks.

"I don't think it's pressure," Pierce said. "Like I said, he's used to playing with the ball in his hands, and he did that for 37, 36 minutes at Oklahoma, so I don't think that's pressure—doing what you've always done.

"Obviously, it's the NBA—games are coming [at you] a lot quicker. We need him to play that way because of what he does, because of what he's capable of doing as a facilitator. But I don't think it's pressure. I think he's comfortable in his own skin. I think he's comfortable in his skill set, and the ability to create his own shot and shots for others is what he's always done."

Young is not a Curry clone. Curry is too skilled to earn that designation, and judging Young solely on his roughly one 30-plus-foot shot per game would be a disservice to his overall skill set.

So, who else fits?

"You know, I've used a lot of guys, and I have good relationships with all three," Pierce explained. "Steph is one: the deep range. Mike Conley is another: getting into the paint as a small guy and being able to create different solution shots.

"Floater, get to the rim and the passing ability...a teammate of mine in college [at Santa Clara] was Steve Nash, and I think Trae has a unique ability to play with both hands and pass with both hands and find pretty much any open option on the floor."

Young has said before he tries to resemble Nash, and on probing drives like this, it's easy to see why:

"He's a very clever passer," a disgruntled Steve Kerr said of Young after the game. "He got to the baseline several times kind of in that Steve Nash area, where he gets the defense turned around and finds cutters."

His playmaking and vision are superb, and that heightens his floor as a prospect.

He's also been a revelation finishing in the paint—a knock on him coming into the league—at a 57.5 percent clip in the restricted area and 53 percent (13 percent above league average) in the paint. That contributes to those comps to Conley:

It's fun to try to figure out who Young will become or just how good he will be. Whether he will be the first of a generation of Curry prototypes—Kobe Bryant to Steph's Michael Jordan—or something different, Young is on the path to becoming a solid NBA player worth every bit of the hype.

"I don't really care about the comparisons," Young said. "That's up for y'all to debate."

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