Trae Young ready to lead Hawks, next generation of point guards

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DETROIT – Trae Young ran to his right, cut hard back to his left and took his defender directly into a screen while receiving a near-handoff. Young curled around the pick and launched a 3-pointer as the defender came over his back. The contact knocked down Young, who watched from his belly as the ball splashed through the net.

Before getting up to complete the four-point play, Young did a few pushups.

“I fell hard,” Young said. “Got to get back up and get strong.”

That attitude is why Young is poised to big things.

Maybe very soon.

Young opened his second season with 38 points, nine assists and seven rebounds in the Hawks’ 117-110 win over the Pistons last night. He hit deep 3-pointers, including one with both feet inside the logo and another with a foot touching the logo. He got Atlanta out in transition. He controlled the half-court offense, getting into the paint with his head up to score or feed a teammate.

Simply, Young showed his superstar promise.

Just less than a year ago, he seemed so far from this level. He got thrown into the fire as a starting NBA point guard and appeared overwhelmed. Through the middle of last December, Young was shooting 38% from the field and 24% on 3-pointers and averaging nearly four turnovers per game. His defense was even worse than his offense.

By the end of the season, he was mounting a serious challenge to Luka Doncic for Rookie of the Year. After another offseason of work, Young could be hitting another gear.

That’d be huge for the Hawks. There are always multiple ways to build a winner, but having a premier lead guard is such a great starting point. This is the NBA’s golden age of point guards.

For this era to continue, youngsters like Young (and Ben Simmons, De'Aaron Fox, Jamal Murray and Ja Morant) must continue to rise.

No point guard drafted after 2012 has made an All-NBA team. The current group of elite point guards – Stephen Curry, Damian Lillard, Kyrie Irving, Russell Westbrook and James Harden if you count him – has run the league for so long.

“Until those guys leave, it’s going to be tough,” Young said. “Because those guys are great players.

“Of course, you want to make it happen as quick as possible”

That also goes for Atlanta, which is launching an intriguing rebuild.

The Hawks have Young (No. 10 on our list of top 50 players in 5 years) and John Collins (No. 24 on our list of top 50 players in 5 years). Atlanta also just added No. 4 pick De'Andre Hunter and No. 10 pick Cameron Reddish in the draft. Kevin Huerter, an All-Rookie second-teamer last season, is no slouch, either.

Already, outside expectations are growing.

“None of it comes from us,” Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce said. “None of those things comes from us, as a staff, as an organization. We don’t put that pressure on players. But we know it’s out there.”

It’d be silly to overreact to one game against the Blake Griffinless Pistons, who played in Indiana the night before. Young committed six turnovers. His size (6-foot-1, 180 pounds) will always limit him defensively.

But Young’s 38 points could portend something special. Nobody so young had ever scored so much in a season opener.

Atlanta’s next four games – vs. Magic, vs. 76ers, at Heat, vs. Heat – are against teams expected to make the Eastern Conference playoffs. Suddenly, there’s more reason to tune in. Will Young and the Hawks sustain their initial success?

This is just a step, though. Atlanta is climbing toward much greater heights, and Young is leading the charge.

Evan Turner, who joined the Hawks from the Trail Blazers this summer, has seen a top point guard up close and personal. Ask him about about Lillard, and Turner just raves – about how Lillard leads, remains consistently focused, keeps everything team-oriented, rises to the occasion, shows accountability, steps up amid adversity and just finds ways to win.

“Trae, talent-wise, he has it,” Turner said. “It’s the little stuff in regards to outside yourself that makes you really special. I think it’s what makes people that play with you speak about you how I speak about Dame.”

Young is just 21. There’s plenty of time for him to cultivate those finer points.

But Young’s time is coming.

It might have already begun.