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Trae Young has mastered drawing ‘run up the back’ fouls; Steve Nash, for one, is not a fan

With Trae Young taking another step forward and their defense making stops, it sure looks like the Atlanta Hawks are a legit playoff contender.

Trae Young is drawing fouls this season at a James Harden level — he is averaging 13.2 free throw attempts a game, more than Harden’s 12 so far season, or Giannis Antetokounmpo’s 10.5. Young’s 66 free throws through five games are the most in the league.

It’s how he’s getting them that has frustrated Nets coach Steve Nash and others.

Young has mastered stopping short and getting a “run up the back” foul by a defender. In short, when Young gets a pick set for him if his defender trails him over the top of the pick, Young works to get the defender directly behind him, then just stops. The defender runs into Young from behind and is called for a foul.

During a recent Hawks series against the Nets (they split the two games), Brooklyn coach Steve Nash was clearly frustrated with the play.

To be clear, what Young is doing is completely legal, and he is not the only point guard to do it. Young just seems to be going to that card more this season, and some see it as a violation of the game’s unwritten rules.

There are defensive counters to Young stopping up, but each creates its own problem. The defensive team could switch the pick, but that would leave a big on Young and he is likely to torch that guy with a drive (or just launch an open three if the big drops back). The defending team could have the big “hedge” or “show” out to slow Young while his regular defender recovers, then the big would quickly recover himself. The challenge there is Young is exceptional at throwing lob passes, and the Hawks have elite lob finishers in John Collins and Clint Capela rolling to the rim — the defending big would be too late to stop it.

In the second game of the Brooklyn series, Young’s primary defender Timothé Luwawu-Cabarrot was ready for this stop a couple of times (Young was hunting it), and Young only got to the line four times. Other Hawks players stepped up in that game and Atlanta got the win, 114-96.

The Hawks are off to a fast 4-1 start this season, and the reason is Young and the Hawks offense with its league-best offensive rating of 122.6 (Dallas had the highest offensive rating in NBA history last season at 116.7) helping cover up a bottom 10 defense. Young is at the heart of that step forward by Atlanta. He looks like he has made a leap to start this season, averaging 30.6 points and 8 assists a game. Young drawing fouls is part of that. There is a vastly improved cast around him (Capela, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Danilo Gallinari, and more), but Young remains the guy who the offense is based on.

It will be interesting to watch how other teams adapt to Young’s new penchant for drawing fouls, particularly by stopping short. It’s on everyone’s radar — and scouting reports — around the league.