It's just one game. And it was against a team on the second leg of a back-to-back that isn't even a lock to make the playoffs in the shallow Eastern Conference. But Trae Young and the Atlanta Hawks put everything that makes them so exciting on display in Thursday night's 117-100 road win over the Detroit Pistons.
Young dazzled with 38 points, nine assists and seven rebounds on 11-of-21 shooting. Like Stephen Curry before him, he looks like another link in an evolutionary chain that includes Steve Nash.
And while he'll lead most Atlanta highlight reels, this is a team that is going to cause problems for others around the league.
"Trae had an unbelievable night offensively, but that was a great team win," head coach Lloyd Pierce told Fox Sports after the victory. "And I just love their composure."
John Collins had some of his trademark slams, but he also showed off his expanded range. De'Andre Hunter was the same steady presence he was at Virginia. Veteran Jabari Parker went for 18 points on 11 shots.
Thursday in Detroit, it all came together for Atlanta, laying the foundation for a team that could surprise plenty over the course of this season.
In 2018-19, the Hawks posted a .328 winning percentage before the All-Star break. They crept up to .417 over 24 games after the intermission. It was a modest but encouraging improvement. But what made it most interesting is that it coincided with Young's breakout.
|2018-19 Trae Young|
It looks like those steady gains from both the central star and his teammates could continue into 2019-20.
Against Detroit, Young looked as comfortable as ever, controlling the pace and rarely forcing the issue in a disadvantageous spot. Like Curry, he demands attention almost immediately after passing half court. When this is in your back pocket, defenses always have to be pressed up:
And he did that more than once Thursday:
Last season, Young hit 24 shots from beyond 30 feet. He attempted 70. Both marks led the league. And if you bump the range up to 32 feet, Young's percentage actually went up. He was 10-of-27 from out there, again No. 1 in both makes and attempts.
His shot chart against Detroit suggests we'll see a lot more of those bombs in 2019-20, and that's going to make life much easier for the rest of the young Hawks.
"Teams are going to blitz Trae regardless," Pierce said Thursday. "He's the focal point of what we do offensively, and they're going to blitz him. And we've talked about that a million times already. Three of the five teams in preseason blitzed him. So they're going to do that. It's our execution because of the blitz, or out of the blitz, that's important."
When multiple defenders have to crowd a point guard 30-plus feet from the rim, it turns the rest of the possession into a four-on-three drill. You've seen this play out countless times over the last five years with Curry-Draymond Green pick-and-rolls. Right now, Young doesn't have that secondary playmaker, but that may not matter for him.
He might already be superior to Curry as a passer.
"Like all of the great passers before him, Young is as selfless as he is effective," Nekias Duncan wrote for SB Nation during Young's rookie campaign. "He doesn't pound the ball into the dirt hunting for assists. He keeps the chain moving, and that Nashian ability to empower his teammates makes them all threats."
That's true in both the half court and transition, as you can see from his nine assists against the Pistons. He has an uncanny ability to find the open man immediately after looking off the defense. And there's a joy to his dimes that must be contagious.
Careful observers have noticed his subtle hop whenever his targets finish an alley-oop:
You can't help but smile at that. And if it's fun for us, just imagine how his teammates must feel.
Young seems genuinely happy to see his guys succeed, and his vision and passing ability may be the biggest keys to their success. Like Nash and Curry before him, he has a chance to be an offensive engine, and Atlanta has surrounded him with a cast that should keep the engine running smoothly.
Collins' bounce is reminiscent of vintage Amar'e Stoudemire's, though he's also shown the ability to stretch the floor beyond the three-point line. He'll be the primary target for Young throughout the foreseeable future.
Hunter plays with a quiet steadiness that almost makes you think of a young Joe Johnson. But if we're recreating the "Seven Seconds or Less" Phoenix Suns, is there anyone on the roster who can be Atlanta's version of Shawn Marion?
Parker almost certainly won't fill that role. He's openly eschewed defense in the past. But he already looks like another potent offensive complement to Young. He had 18 points on 8-of-11 shooting against the Pistons, and three of Young's nine dimes went to him, the most of any teammate. They already appear to have some chemistry in the pick-and-roll.
The comparison to the Nash-era Suns sort of breaks down here, but that's fine. The Hawks are going to fly their own course. They have a chance to be one of the game's most dynamic offenses this season. In a couple of years, they could be unstoppable.
The average age of Young, Collins, Parker, Hunter, Cam Reddish and Kevin Huerter is 21.8. Parker is the oldest of the bunch at 24.
There's nowhere to go but up for this group. And though he's the smallest of the bunch, Young has already shown he can lift the rest.
All stats, unless otherwise indicated, courtesy of Basketball Reference.