A few weeks ago, it was reported by Liberty Ballers’ Jake Fischer that Thaddeus Young had privately requested a trade from the Sixers. Even though Young publicly denied the report, now seems like a logical time for the Sixers and their longest-tenured player to part ways.
Well, at least for Young it does. Currently in his seventh year, the 25-year-old has been nothing but dependable for the Sixers. While Young’s contributions remain consistent, the team’s front office has been unable to assemble anything close to a contender with him in the fold.
After the disastrous Andrew Bynum trade, new general manager Sam Hinkie decided to hit the proverbial reset button and rebuild the team from scratch (with the exception of Young, Evan Turner, and Spencer Hawes). Whether or not Young asked to be traded, it’s understandable if he doesn’t have the type of patience to see that process through, especially now entering his prime years as a basketball player.
The Sixers’ theoretical motivation for shopping Young is murkier. He’s under team control for at least another year at a reasonable salary. Also, Young’s professionalism, evidenced by the ridiculous line (27.5 PPG, 8.8 RPG, 2.5 APG, and 2.5 SPG) he slapped together in the first four games since the report, is something that could make a positive impact on Michael Carter-Williams and Nerlens Noel.
Basically, Young is really good and tends to be underappreciated both locally and especially nationally. One of the major reasons that contenders should be interested in acquiring him is that Young doesn’t need the ball in his hands to be a successful offensive player.
Unlike Evan Turner, another potential trade chip, Young is comfortable playing an off-ball role. During Doug Collins’ tenure as head coach, the Sixers hardly ever ran any plays for Young, but he was still able to score an efficient 13 points per game (16 when adjusted per-36 minutes) by moving without the ball within the team’s offensive framework.
As basketball fans, we tend to think of deadly shooters that run off screens like Ray Allen, Richard Hamilton, and J.J. Redick as great off-ball offensive players. Young’s ability to cause havoc without the basketball is more unique.
Before the season, SB Nation’s Mike Prada did a nice job detailing Young’s ability to move without the ball. Truthfully, most of his baskets during the Collins years don’t need to be diagrammed, because the unpredictability of Young’s cuts is what makes him so effective. Young plays a very instinctual game, reading and reacting to how the defense is playing him and more importantly, his teammates. As an observer, it’s so much fun to watch.
Last season, Young shot 139 of 216 on plays labeled as “Cuts,” per mySynergySports. Part of the reason why his contributions tend to get lost in the shuffle is because he does so much of his damage away from what we are primarily focused on while watching the game, the ball.
Take the shot above, for instance. On the play, Carter-Williams made a strong drive and found Young for a layup. While Carter-Williams will get most of the credit for the drive and dish, it’s easy to forget that Young had to find the soft spot in the defense where he could provide Carter-Williams with a passing lane.
The same is true on this play. Carter-Williams impressively draws three defenders, but Young floated along the baseline to a spot where his rookie point guard could hit him moving toward the hoop. This type of movement often goes unappreciated, and Young is excellent at it. Below are the two plays in real time.
This year, working with better spacing and more structure in Brett Brown’s offense, Young has parlayed his general cutting ability into more success out of the pick-and-roll. He is scoring a whopping 1.23 points per possession this season in these situations, per Synergy.
When Young’s defender threatens to “show” or defend the pick-and-roll aggressively, like Shawne Williams does during the critical late-game possession shown above, Young is going to automatically dive to the open space. It’s a decision that he can’t be a split second early or late making, and he usually isn’t.
Once he receives the ball in open space, he’s adept at either driving all the way to the rim or taking one dribble and putting up a quirky floater, as he eventually does in the play above. Here is that play in real time, as well as a few more examples of Young’s versatility as a pick-and-roll big.
Before this year, Young’s major weakness was an inability to shoot from the outside. Under Collins’ mandate, he eschewed the long ball, only attempting 34 three-pointers over three seasons. While the “no threes” directive was intended to focus Young on attacking the basket, he still attempted about three 16-23 footers per game during that span, only making around 37 percent of them.
This season, Young has already launched 66 threes, adding another weapon to his already impressive arsenal. Even better, he’s making 41 percent of them. For a player that has always worked so well in tight spaces, being able to utilize the three-point line (and really, the whole floor) makes life that much easier.
Take a look at the two shots above. Just like when Young is hanging around the rim, he’s reading how his defender, Glen Davis, reacts to the Carter-Williams drive. As Davis crashes hard toward the paint, Young floats out to the three-point line. This is far easier work for Young than trying to get free in traffic under the basket.
Also, Young is a skilled individual offensive player. If someone closes out hard on the three-point shot, he has no problem putting the ball on the floor and making a play with his quickness. For that very reason, defenders could be reticent to aggressively challenge Young’s three-pointers as he continues to fire them.
Sam Hinkie isn’t going to give Thaddeus Young away for free. While I think the term “Hinkie-type player” has been a bit overblown (Young is everybody’s type of player), Hinkie is the one general manager that currently holds his rights.
When taking Young’s off-ball offense and strong rotational defense (tougher to focus on this year with defense seemingly not a priority) into account, Hinkie will get good value if he decides to trade him. If not, Thaddeus Young is still a Sixer. That’s not such a bad thing, is it?
Rich Hofmann Jr. can be contacted @rich_hofmann.