Can Trae Young carry Atlanta Hawks to playoffs?

Trae Young’s MVP-like start to the Atlanta Hawks’ 2019-20 season is having many fans wondering if he can carry his squad into the playoffs.

I’ll be the first to admit that I was wrong in my evaluation of Trae Young before he came into the NBA with the Atlanta Hawks last season.

When he came out of college, I questioned more or less if he could have the same kind of scoring impact in terms of dynamic shot creation inside the arc to set up his passing arsenal.

Well, the Hawks guard has taken the league by storm early into the 2019-20 season and his performance isn’t something to overlook.

Young’s overall offensive output to date is staggering. Three games, 34.0 points per game on 51.5 percent shooting to go along with 6.0 rebounds and 9.0 assists per night.

Those are crazy counting numbers. Factor in his efficiency on top of that with a 31.6 Player Efficiency Rating and you’ve found the MVP through the first few games of the year.

We knew Young could shoot coming out of college. Logo range is his calling card, but during his rookie campaign the effectiveness of that approach wasn’t always there. Sure he could convert on the circus shot, but Young was appropriately labeled a volume shooter.

Put simply, he took that title and ran with it. Not only has Young upped his 3-point takes early on, he’s also making them at a much higher clip. On 8.3 attempts per game, he’s making 4.3 triples. Not many players can come close to matching that overall output from beyond the arc.

Couple that with his passing ability and it’s clear that Young is poised to wreck the NBA as an offensive machine similar to what he was in college, where he became the only player in NCAA history to lead his peers in both scoring and assists.

I mentioned earlier my questions regarding his scoring closer to the basket. Within three feet of the rim, Young has converted on 61.5 percent of his field goals per Basketball-Reference.

Slicing and dicing his way to the hoop for easy layups has surprisingly become a mainstay in his game. He isn’t content just camping outside the arc and launching jump shots.

That’s the difference between Young and a player like Lonzo Ball, whose impact decreases tremendously given how one-dimensional he appears at times.

So how has Young generated so much offense? Has he done it through increased pace? Is he excelling like so many other young guards in transition?

Actually no he isn’t. Per Synergy Sports, Young ranks in the 15th percentile in terms of points per possession (PPP) in transition.

Halfcourt offense, primarily pick-and-roll play types, have been the source of Young’s crazy outburts.

Being a maestro of the pick-and-roll isn’t an easy job for a sophomore talent. The fact that he’s ranked in the 82nd percentile of all NBA players in those play types through his first three contests is remarkable to say the least.

It makes sense that Young is deadly when he has the help of a screener. His size hasn’t always done him favors when it comes to shooting contested jumpers or having a defender with size and length locked onto him as he enters into the paint. Smaller guards need the help of their teammates more than a wing shot creator.

When Young has received the help of a high pick-and-roll, the results have led to shredded defenses.

Because he’s a threat to shoot as soon as he steps on the court, defenses have to key on him right away and limit the amount of space he has to work with, especially in a screen action. Go underneath the pick on Young, and you might as well just give the Hawks three points.

However, following him over the screen isn’t a guaranteed end result either.

Remember, Young’s high assist totals keep opposing players on their tolls as well, especially when he has a quality roll man to work with. It doesn’t matter if it’s on a bounce pass, lob or even a cross-court pass to an open shooter: Young will find the open man off the high pick.

Hawks head coach Lloyd Pierce has done a brilliant job of recognizing Young’s mastery of the pick-and-roll, so much so that Trae has spent 59.1 percent of his total offensive possessions in those situations.

Atlanta has put Young in a position to succeed given the type of offensive attack that’s employed.

The only real way to stop him from scoring or dropping dimes is similar to a game plan against Stephen Curry: throw large bodies at him and force him to give the ball up before he sees an opening of any sort.

Sometimes it works, especially since Young has averaged 6.0 turnovers per game so far this year and 3.8 per game last year. There are plenty of ways to scheme around a small guard with a switchable defense.

But Young is overcoming all of the obstacles that are put in the way of a player lacking in the size department. His confidence, swagger and skill level are all becoming too much for teams to plan around.

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Eventually, the strategy against Young will become limiting the motion and shot creation around him and funneling shot attempts from him exclusively. Tiring Young out while limiting his ability to make others better seems like a better course of action for teams looking to notch a win over Atlanta at this point.

If Young can overcome that, however, then the sky is the limit for the Hawks, especially when it comes to getting into the playoffs. The Eastern Conference is joked about for a reason.

Quality doesn’t sit near the bottom of the conference, so if Atlanta can feed off of lesser clubs, the better odds of contending for a seat in the postseason.

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And with an offensive dynamo like Young leading the way, the Hawks’ playoff hopes and dream are starting to materialize into a reality.

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