Evolution of Trae Young at Summer League

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LAS VEGAS — Trae Young looked overmatched in his first two Summer League games. No question.

In Salt Lake City, the No. 5 pick and newest face of the Atlanta franchise shot 9-of-36 overall and 2-of-16 from three through two games. The Stephen Curry comparisons, which were always overheated, looked foolish. Young couldn’t create space on his drives, could not find lanes for his passes, and was rushing his shot. Like everyone around the NBA, I wrote about it saying he “laid bricks.” NBA Twitter roasted him. There was a lot of “they wanted this guy instead of Luka Doncic?” comments, and a few hot takers ever threw the “B” word — “bust” — around.

Hawks’ coach Lloyd Pierce saw things differently.

Looking at the big picture, he wasn’t worried about a few missed shots, he knew that would change. Pierce said he thought his rookie point guard was making good decisions, just not executing them. Yet.

“I don’t know if you guys expected that, but I expected that…” Pierce said after Young’s first game in Utah. “I’ve done this 11 years now, you come out for your first Summer League game and everybody thinks it’s going to be a home run, a success. Then you see ‘I’ve got a lot of work to do.’”

By the time the Hawks got to Las Vegas, Trae Young had put in some work and figured out Summer League.

In Las Vegas, Young is averaging 17 points and 7.8 assists per game. He’s still searching for efficiency and taking some poor shots, but he’s creating space, impressing with his passing, and improving. Fast.

Pierce’s big picture outlook seems justified.

“It’s hard to be upset with a player when you don’t know what they know,” Pierce told NBC Sports in Las Vegas about the process with Young. “So I’m giving them a little bit, and now I get to evaluate it, I get to study it, then I get to coach them just a little bit.”

Young has figured out how to make his game work against Summer League competition — but 90 percent of the players in Las Vegas will not be on an NBA roster. Young is going to get a lot of minutes against elite NBA defenders come next season, guys Pierce described as “bigger, stronger” than what Young has seen so far.

Summer League is just the start of the process, a place to benchmark where Young is at.

“So we have a couple areas with Trae… where we say, ‘you know what, I know what we need to work on,’” Pierce said. “More will come, but at least I have a starting point and we can have a conversation now.

“The conversation is, ‘There’s a lot of work to be done.’ For all of us, myself included. And then you got to perform 82 nights, so how do we help you get better? How do we help you understand what you’re going to need at this level? That’s the starting point that we have.

“The conversation is for them to understand, and to hear it from me. I know what we’re trying to get across, I know it’s going to take a while, but we’ve got to start somewhere and that’s what I’m doing with this summer.”

Young’s summer has shown the potential to learn and adapt. That’s a good sign, because while fans can fixate on what a player does at Summer League, what matters to teams is how players improve from July until camp opens. And from there, how they grow over the course of a season until next fall.

Young’s game has evolved over the first two weeks of July. Keep that trend up and he will earn that face-of-the-franchise tag Pierce and the Hawks are counting on. But there’s a lot of work between now and then.