How Bulls’ Thad Young adapted to new style of play in first year with team


NBC Sports Chicago is breaking down the 15 full-time players on the Bulls' roster. Next up is Thad Young.

Past: Zach LaVine | Coby White | Tomas Satoransky | Kris Dunn | Ryan Arcidiacono | Otto Porter Jr. | Chandler Hutchison | Denzel Valentine | Shaq Harrison


2019-20 Stats

10.3 ppg, 4.9 RPG, 1.8 APG | 44.8% FG, 35.6% 3PT, 58.3% FT | 19.2% USG

Contract Breakdown

Age: 32

July 2019: Signed 3-year, $43,635,000 deal

2020-21: $13,545,000 | 2021-22: $14,190,000*

*Partial guarantee: $6,000,000

(via Spotrac)


Young’s signing last offseason was widely praised because of his veteran status, defensive versatility and savvy offensive game. The perfect supplementary role player and reliable guiding hand to help usher the Bulls into the next phase of the rebuild. 

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The first and second of those considerations mostly panned out. Young was a consistent source of perspective within the Bulls locker room, and was often praised by teammates for his smarts and mentorship. That’s a presence that should still be valuable for a team among the youngest in the league. After early-season rumblings about being dissatisfied with his role, it became evident that, in Young's case, with more opportunity, production follows — he averaged 32.3 minutes, 13.9 points, 5.9 rebounds and 2.1 steals on 51.2% field goal shooting (41.7% from 3) in 15 starts filling in for an injured Lauri Markkanen from late January to early March. He also stayed healthy, missing just one game of the Bulls’ 65 for personal reasons.

Offensively, Young had to adapt to a run-and-gun, 3-pointer heavy style he hadn’t been asked to fully play throughout his 13-year career in his first season with the Bulls. There were bumps early on — when the calendar flipped, he was shooting 39.3% from the floor, 32.4% from deep and 49% in the restricted area. But by the end of the season, he became a reliable enough spot-up shooting threat (from November to February, his 3-point attempts and percentage lineally increased month-over-month), and dragged his finishing closer to league-average (he shot 64.2% in the restricted area from Jan. 2 on, finishing the season with a 57.3% mark from that range). His 3.5 3-point attempts per game and 35.6% conversion rate are both second-best season-long marks for his career. 

Areas to Improve

Still, Young finished 2019-20 with non-rookie-year career-lows in points, rebounds and minutes per game, and finished under 45% field goal shooting for a season for the first time. Those figures belie the progression enumerated above, but they matter.

Young is who he is at this point in his career. And what he is is a productive role player/plug-and-play starter, and locker-room boon. Asking him to change his game any more than the Bulls already have feels both unrealistic and unreasonable, but continued improvements as a spot-up shooter and settling in around his career reputation as an interior scorer would go a long way towards extending his productive years. His steadiness on the defensive end isn’t going anywhere.

Ceiling Projection

The biggest consideration facing Young with respect to his future with the Bulls is that he and Lauri Markkanen did not prove a congruous on-court frontcourt pairing in 2019-20 (lineups featuring Young and Markkanen were outscored by 3.9 points per 100 possessions in 279 minutes), meaning playing time for one often came at the expense of the other. That, combined with the Bulls’ team-wide woes, casts doubt on Young’s fit moving forward. Trade rumors swirled about him from December through the deadline. 

Young undoubtedly still has multiple more seasons of 12-6-1.5 (steals per game) type production in him. He can still be a valuable piece for the Bulls. The decision the new front office regime might soon face is whether or not the teams’ priorities align as closely as they seemed to this time last year.