For the second year in a row, going into the season, it felt like every Sixer source and article made sure to make mention of Thaddeus Young and his potential to become an All-Star this year.
(Don't believe me? See this Philadelphia Inquirer article from... oh, ten days ago. And I quote: "Not just anyone can be a star in the best league in the world. But Young is quickly moving toward that plateau.")
Young had done his part to generate the hype. Selected 12th in the 2007 NBA draft, Young began the season coming off the bench for the first 36 games, but broke into the starting lineup 22 times over the rest of the season, averaging 10.6 points and five rebounds in just over 29 minutes per game.
Thad demonstrated his versatility on a nightly basis, racking up points, rebounds, assists, steals, and even the occasional block and three-pointer (also known as a fantasy basketball player's late-round dream... but oh, just wait).
Young made the typical rookie-to-sophomore jump, bumping his averages to 15.3 points on 49.5 percent shooting last season, while adding five rebounds, an assist, and a steal per game. He started 71 of the 75 games he played last season, draining 56 three-balls in that time. With PF Elton Brand sidelined by just about every injury imaginable and limited to 29 games, Young stepped up and became one of the Sixers' most dependable weapons.
With that responsibility last season came great expectations for the third-year pro out of Georgia Tech. However, after five games this season, let's just say the stats aren't exactly in Young's favor.
He's scored eight, 13, 25, 11, and eight points respectively in the Sixers' first five games.
Young is averaging 13.0 points/game on 41.4% shooting —nearly a nine percent drop from his shooting percentage last year.
But a quick look at his shot charts from each game this season (Orlando , Milwaukee , New York , Boston , New Jersey ) reveal a telling trend of his shooting percentages thus far. Teams have managed to limit Young effectively by keeping him away from the basket.
Keep this in mind: Young has converted 17 of 26 buckets from short-range (lay-ups and dunks), which equates to 65.4 percent shooting. Meanwhile, he has significantly struggled to find his long-range early in the season, as he's only 7 of 33 on jumpers (including only hitting one of his attempted 10 3-pointers), good for a 21.2 field goal percentage.
According to Fagan, Young said that his offensive struggles this season are "a product of the entire team not yet feeling comfortable with what they're doing on offense. He said he's going to focus on slowing down and being certain of his mechanics on those long-range shots."
So, what's up with Thad? And is there any hope for him to pull out of this funk?
Needless to say... yes. Let's not overreact here. The Sixers have 77 more games this season. And Thad did break out for 25 against the Knicks (granted, the game went into overtime, but who's counting?).
The stats don't lie. And the stats say that Young has become such a low percentage shooter from the outside that he should focus on his inside game, where he has typically made a positive impact so far this season.
Not all the early season returns for Young are negative, either. While his points/game average has dipped, he's noticeably increased his assists per game from 1.1 last year to nearly three per game this year. With last year's starting PG (Andre Miller) now on the Trailblazers, and youngster Lou Williams in charge of the Sixers' offense, Young has taken it upon himself to become more of a facilitator for his teammates.
But the decrease in stats hasn't just come in his scoring average. He's averaging 3.6 rebounds/game, nearly 1.5 rebounds less than last year, and he's bumped his turnovers/game from 1.6 last year to 2.6 this year.
In other words, he's fallen from a fantasy basketball dream to every owner's nightmare in the span of one year. (Trust me. I thought I "stole" him from my league this year in the ninth round of our draft. Lou Williams, the Sixers point guard who I picked two rounds later, is greatly outperforming him. I hate fantasy sports sometimes.)
Considering 76ers coach Eddie Jordan's complicated Princeton offense, which relies on passing and constant motion to generate high-percentage shots, Young appears prime to set a career high on the passing aspect of his offensive game.
Now, Sixers fans must hope that either Young starts taking it to the inside, or that he regains his sweet outside stroke that turned him into the deadly 49.5 percent shooter the Sixers relied on last year.
With Brand currently setting a career low in points and rebounds (and coincidentally, a career high in looking completely lost on the court), the Sixers have already started looking Young's way, as he's taken at least nine shots in each game this season.
Whether Young can answer the challenge and become the All-Star caliber player that he's been prophesied to be will be an ever-present storyline in the script of the Sixers' season.