Critics worried Atlanta Hawks rookie point guard Trae Young wouldn’t play well defensively once he was a professional basketball player.
As noted by Brad Rowland, the 20-year-old ranks last overall among all qualified NBA players in ESPN’s Real Defensive Plus-Minus ratings. While he was never expected to be a superb defender, his current performance so far this season has left a lot to be desired.
Young was not selected by the Hawks as a player who would be a defensive threat, especially this early in his career. But this statistic, designed to show exactly how well or poor he has been guarding opposition, is concerning (via ESPN):
“Drawing on advanced statistical modeling techniques (and the analytical wizardry of RPM developer Jeremias Engelmann, formerly of the Phoenix Suns), the metric isolates the unique plus-minus impact of each NBA player by adjusting for the effects of each teammate and opposing player.”
Players that Young has defended are shooting 5.9 percentage points better when he has guarded them compared to their effectiveness on other attempts this season. Only five players who have seen the court as often as Young are contesting fewer shots per 36 minutes than the rookie guard.
Young knows his defense will need to improve but there are larger reasons to be concerned. Rowland notes that Young ranks No. 175 among all players in Offensive Real Plus-Minus, comparable with 2017 NBA lottery pick Dennis Smith Jr. as well as 2018 first overall pick Deandre Ayton.
But it’s not like his offensive game has been particularly effective thus far, either. He has scored 0.781 points per possession for the Hawks. This ranks last overall (minimum: 200 possessions) among high-volume contributors in the NBA.
While he has been an effective spot-up shooter, there has not been much else he has done well on a consistent basis since entering the league. He is still a very young player, however, with plenty of room to develop.