There isn't a more polarizing NBA Draft prospect in this year's class than Trae Young. There also isn't a player in the class more aware of the scouting reports, perceptions and dectractors of his game.
Wherever Young winds up, the widest spectrum among that team's fan base will be covered. There are those who believe the 6-foot-2 freshman's innate scoring and passing ability wil translate seamlessly at the next level, at a time in the history of the NBA where those traits are as important as ever. Then there are those who believe, rightfully so, that the 175-pound guard will have immense struggles on the defensive end and withstanding the physcality of an 82-game season.
Both positions are correct as the June 21 draft nears, and it's likely that NBA evaluators agree. The task then for Young, who completed his fourth and final private workout Thursday afternoon in Chicago, is to use the abilities that made him an All-American and cover his weaknesses enough to justify what should be a Lottery selection in a week.
"That’s my goal and that’s my job, to change the narrative," Young said.
He's a confident kid, and why wouldn't he be? You've heard already that Young became the first player in NCAA history to lead the nation in both points and assists. But remember, too, that he had the highest usage rate of any player the last decade - and did so as a freshman.
Young raised up the games of those around him, so much so that the previously unranked Sooners got as high as No. 4 in the AP polls this past season. Young went through an ugly stretch in February (and March) after it appeared he'd run away with Player of the Year honors. But those team results - at this stage in his career - don't matter as much as his personal ones do.
And what Young brings to the table is a lights-out shooter and adept playmaker, capable of running an offense with precision. He'll have more freedom, space and talent around him at the next level, which brings us back to his confidence.
"I think just by the spacing alone is going to make my game that much better and that much easier for my teammates," he said. "I just try to make the right play. It led to me leading the country in points and assists. So as long as I’m making the right play and doing the right things something like that could happen. That’s all my mind set is, is making the right play and doing the right thing each and every possession."
That would be a sight for sore eyes in Chicago.
In three seasons Hoiberg’s starting point guards (Derrick Rose in 2015, Rajon Rondo in 2016, Kris Dunn in 2017) combined to shoot 32.8 percent from deep on 417 attempts. Those three players combined to make 137 3-pointers in their respective starting seasons; Young made 118 3-pointers last year alone at Oklahoma.
Hoiberg has had able 3-point shooting point guards off the bench, namely E’Twaun Moore, Jerian Grant and even Cameron Payne, but never one capable of carrying a heavy load.
Hoiberg finally found a semblance of the roster he felt would carry out his offense most efficiently, as the Bulls ranked 6th in 3-point attempts per game and 10th in makes. But volume numbers don’t tell the whole story, as the Bulls were 27th in 3-point field goal percentage and ranked 28th in offensive efficiency. Basketball has become more perimeter-oriented than ever before, but those shots still need to go in. That's where Young comes in.
"I don’t think there’s anybody like me in the draft. I think with the guys and the talent around on (the Bulls) with different abilities – we have athletic wings, shooters, shooting big men who can pick and pop – and then my ability to pass the ball and ability to shoot the ball will make it easier for my teammates and this team. I think it would be a great decision to pick me."
The flip side, of course, is that Young makes a Bulls defense that ranked 28th in efficiency last season even worse. As we wrote earlier this month, there's no sugarcoating Young's defensive issues. There won't be a growth spurt between now and draft night, and even if he has put on some weight (#MuscleWatch) since the Combine, he's undersized and he's going to stay undersized.
Even Young admits as much.
"I think that’s an area of concern for people. My job is to go out there and prove that it’s not," Young said. "That was a concern for people coming into college and I didn’t let that be a factor. I know that’s going to be a concern but my job is to make that not a factor."
Positional need also comes into play. Though the Bulls, a 27-win team with minimal assets for the future, can't be too picky about drafting for need vs. best available, they do like what they saw from point guard Kris Dunn a year ago. While Dunn's defensive prowess might help cover some of Young's deficiencies, Dunn hasn't proven capable of playing off the ball if both were to play together.
Young said the Bulls didn't mention Dunn - in a good or bad sense - during their meetings and that he's comfortable sharing the court with whomever, so long as it improves the team.
There are glaring pros and cons with Young, perhaps magnified more so than other top prospects because of his style. He's aware of everything being said, written about and critiqued about him. He isn't running from his weaknesses and he isn't making excuses.
"I know what I have to work on," he said. "I know what I have to get better at and I know what I have to show and improve as soon as I get on whatever team I go to. That’s my main focus, is just focusing on what I need to get better at and improving in that way."