Trae Young: Yay or Nay?

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Michael Maynard, Staff Writer

March Madness is less than a month away. While personally I’ve taken responsibility to become a young Joe Lunardi (ESPN’s bracketology expert), the general following starts about now. If you fall into the “general following,” it’s time to figure out what you missed.

The biggest story from this season so far has been the flashy Freshman point guard at Oklahoma University named Trae Young. He might as well be named Stephen Curry Jr. because that’s exactly how he’s advertised.

Trae Young is a deadly scorer both attacking the basket and from deep (like Curry), a flashy passer who constantly finds teammates for open looks (like Curry), a short and skinny kid who brings about all sorts of doubts (like Curry), and an absolute darling for sports media (like Curry).

Before I get into analysis, as the official Trae Young hype club manager for Voyager, I have a strong pro-Trae Young bias. Not everyone feels this way, and that’s alright—neither Trae nor I are offended. But I’m gonna do my best to give the full scouting report.

Trae Young a 5-star prospect coming out of high school. A homegrown kid from Norman, Oklahoma, Young averaged 42.6 points per game senior year, and chose to stay close to home and attend Oklahoma. Curry had similar success in High School, but went virtually unrecruited because of his size. With no big offers, Curry went to Davidson University in Davidson, NC. People have heard of Davidson—because of Curry. At that time, Davidson would stick out on a bracket as much as any other mid major school would.

Despite the doubters, Curry made a national impact at Davidson. After three years and a run to the Elite 8, Curry was a perfect underdog story— the short, skinny, unrecruited kid who could shoot the lights out and play with the big boys. Despite his collegiate success, Curry still had plenty of doubters, and fell to the Warriors at the 7th pick. Two MVPs, three straight finals appearances, and two runs later, it’s safe to say he’s proven the doubters wrong.

Curry was a trailblazer. Kids around the world impersonate Curry the same way they did MJ, Kobe, and LeBron. It would figure a couple of them would turn out pretty good. Trae Young is the closest product to Curry that we’ve seen. Young embraces the comparisons too. He takes shots from 5 feet beyond the 3-point line and hits a good share of them. He awes spectators with his no-look or thread the needle passes. He even tweets “Lock in #JustUs” before every game, similar to how Curry tweets “Lock in #DubNation” before games. Young has the potential to be the next Curry and he knows it. Whether or not he can translate success to the next level like Curry is the big question.

When Curry had his first MVP and the Warriors became contenders, ESPN made him a focal point. They have done the same thing with Young. On Oklahoma game days, the first topic on SportsCenter is what Trae Young did. They broadcast every Oklahoma game, and the announcers constantly critique him throughout the game. Most of the time there is a bar above the scoreboard graphic showing how many points, assists, and turnovers Young has as well as how he’s shooting on 3-pointers. When I watch every other college game on-and even pros for that matter-Trae Young is usually brought up at least one.

The Trae Young brand is coming together on a national scale. The name rolls off the tongue smoothly. Take a minute and say it aloud to yourself. Two-syllables, like Kobe, Curry, Harden. Trae Young. It has superstar written all over it; however, it might be a bit much to handle for a 19 year old kid. Having cameras in your face at all times and not being able to turn on ESPN without your name mentioned can be overwhelming for a college kid.

Young is a favorite for the Naismith award for best collegiate player. He leads all Division I in both points (29.1) and assists (9.3) per game. At 17-11 (7-9 Big 12), Oklahoma is the highest scoring offense in the country.

Young aside, Oklahoma is not a great overall team. Currently Lunardi has them as an 8 seed, which is a gigantic step back from the top 4 seed from the selection committee two weeks ago. They just beat Kansas State to end a six game skid. They don’t have ton of offensive firepower aside from Young. He’s an incredibly ball-dominant player, meaning he is responsible for creating the majority of Oklahoma’s offense—hence the gaudy point and assist averages. He shot 39 times in the overtime loss at Oklahoma State. In the loss at Alabama, the Tide emphasized taking Young out of the game offensively, and Oklahoma stalled.

Young is getting a lot of criticism in this dry spell. He shot 19.6% on 3s during the six game losing streak. He also turns the ball over. A lot. If he struggles down the stretch, Oklahoma may see their tournament chances diminish.

Critics ask many of the same questions about Young that they did with Curry? Is he too small? Can he hold up in an 82 game season? Can he do more than just shoot? Will he be able to defend? All are fair questions we won’t answer for a few more years.

Curry also plays next to three all-stars in Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, and Kevin Durant. That takes a lot of pressure off him to create shots. Young has nowhere near that supporting cast at Oklahoma. Put him on an NBA roster with all-star caliber players around him (maybe Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine, and Lauri Markkanen, knock on wood), and if his game can translate to the level its been in college, he might be able to challenge Curry.

That’s a big if. I’d love to see Trae Young in a Bulls jersey next year. The Suns would be a good fit for him with Devin Booker, the Magic need a point guard, and Cleveland could snag him with the Nets pick as a way to convince LeBron to stay. But I can’t speak for teams and scouts, and how they view him in this historically deep draft class. But as Curry showed, does it really matter?

I’m all in on you Trae. I’ll defend you for as long as I need to. If in the end it doesn’t work out, he gave us a great college career.