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.
Magic Johnson: Lakers will consult with LeBron on big moves
This is what should happen with the NBA’s elite players. When the Warriors were thinking about adding DeMarcus Cousins to the roster this summer, they reached out to Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant for their opinion, then pulled the trigger after listening to feedback. It’s going to be that way with James Harden in Houston or Anthony Davis in New Orleans or…
Magic Johnson confirmed as much, speaking to the media, as reported by Bill Oram of the Athletic.
Magic: "We're gonna go to LeBron and say hey if there's a deal to be made or a guy's available,'What do you think about this guy?'" That's how it was when he played w/ Jerry West and Dr. Buss. "The ultimate decision-maker … is me."
This gets blown up by some fans into “LeBron is the GM” but he’s never wanted to be the final decision maker. Teams defer to his wishes at times, but that happened with Magic (just as Norm Nixon) and virtually every other superstar in the modern NBA. It’s part of the game.
The art is knowing where the boundaries are and when to overrule. Pat Riley did that well (for the most part) when LeBron was in Miami. In Cleveland, there were more misses than hits, although David Griffin (and to a degree Koby Altman) did well within the limitations.
Consulting LeBron is a must. It’s expected. Will Magic and Rob Pelinka be able to tell him “no” at the appropriate times? That remains to be seen. So far they have not impressed with the veterans brought in to go with LeBron (if you want to see executives from other teams laugh/roll their eyes, just bring up the Lance Stephenson/JaVale McGee signings).
Magic won the summer by getting LeBron, but that’s not even half the battle.
Kevin Durant apparently argues online with teenager
Just because Durant is successful, he shouldn’t argue with people online? Plenty of unsuccessful people spend a lot of time mad online, and nobody bats an eye. Durant will remain successful either way.
Nobody gets hurt. Durant clearly enjoys this (even if it’s a joy in misery). The teenager gets a desired rush of attention. It’s totally harmless.
And for what it’s worth, Durant is an elite two-way player who doesn’t elevate a team quite like LeBron James due to his playmaking/leadership deficiencies – relative to LeBron. I could go either way on Durant vs. Stephen Curry.
That’s hardly a slight! LeBron is the best player in the NBA, and Curry and Durant are in the discussion for No. 2.
Stephen Curry: ‘The West obviously got stronger with LeBron but you’ve still got to beat us’
The Warriors got better this summer. DeMarcus Cousins is going to be their center (once he gets healthy, probably around Christmas at the earliest), although his real impact will come with the second unit. They added a shooter in Jonas Jerebko. Jordan Bell will be better.
However, probably the thing that helped them the most this summer is LeBron James coming to the West. Coach Steve Kerr talked a lot last season about the challenges of lighting a fire under this team during the regular season after all their success — LeBron in your state and in your conference will do that.
There’s a lot that’s been made about the competition in the West and his eight straight Finals appearances and all that, but that just makes everybody raise the antenna up a little bit – including us. It’s going to be fun for fans, playing (more) in the regular season and who knows in the playoffs. So the West obviously got stronger with LeBron but you’ve still got to beat us.
He’s right. And everyone knows it.
As for the Warriors ruining the NBA…
So everybody says how we’re ruining the NBA – I love that phrasing; it’s the dumbest phrase ever. We are always trying to find a way to get better. If we were just happy with winning a championship and staying stagnant, we wouldn’t be doing ourselves justice. Obviously with KD (Kevin Durant signing in 2016), with DeMarcus this summer, with the bench guys that we’ve been able to sign, everybody is trying to get better and we just happen to be the ones who set the pace and set the narrative around how you need to structure your team to beat us. That’s great. I love that vibe, because it keeps us on edge seeing the ripple effect around the NBA and where guys are going and that type of stuff.
I could get into how the NBA has always been at its best and most popular when there were dynasties to chase — Jordan’s Bulls, the Showtime Lakers, the Bill Russell Celtics — but if people have entrenched themselves in a belief, no statement anyone will make will change their mind. The simple fact is NBA popularity and ratings — including ratings at the regional network level — are up (especially once streaming numbers are added into the calculation). The numbers show people are interested. Very interested.
Curry and the Warriors are part of that, although they have reached the point in the popularity arc where they are changing from “everyone’s second favorite team” to the villain. It’s part of the modern sports storyline. The Warriors get that and are embracing it, from the GM on down. A lot of fans want to see the Warriors lose.
It could happen, LeBron might be the guy to do it (once the Lakers upgrade the roster more) but it’s not going to be easy.