The Atlanta Hawks second half surge has taken them from a fringe play-in team prior to the All-Star break to, currently, fifth place in the Eastern Conference. The final nine games of the season will determine exactly where they fall, as they are a game back of the 4-seed Knicks and a game up on the Celtics and Heat in sixth and seventh, respectively.
There have been a number of factors in the Hawks second half surge, from the return of a healthy (and scorching hot) Bogdan Bogdanovic to a coaching change with Nate McMillan. The constant all season has been Trae Young, who continues to put up big numbers for the Hawks but this time is doing it for a contender thanks to an improved supporting cast around him. Young is has missed the last four games for the Hawks with a sprained ankle suffered in New York, but has been steadily increasing his on-court workload and is hoping to be back on the floor sooner than later.
On Tuesday, we got a chance to catch up with Young over the phone on behalf of BODYARMOR, as he’s part of their new One More campaign. Young talked about how his ankle’s feeling, the Hawks resurgence and the mentality shift that led to that, what playing with Bogdanovic does for him, how defense have adjusted to him in Year 3, growing as a leader, and more.
To start, how’s your ankle feeling and kind of how are you doing as you progress through this little rehab process?
Yeah, my ankle’s feeling a lot better, swelling’s getting down. It feels a lot better. So, I mean, should be back playing soon.
That’s obviously good as you guys are making this push for the seeding in the stretch run. What has been in your mind the biggest reason for this run you guys are on and the way you guys have played over the last couple of months?
Really I think just the mentality of everybody just understanding the time and situation really. Understanding we didn’t have a lot of time to keep accepting losing, and we just needed a change in winning and we just need to win. I think everybody’s mentality and everybody’s mindset really has changed and everybody’s really just has been locked in, in focusing on winning each and every day. So I think that’s the biggest change.
One of the biggest changes that you can see is the way you guys have improved in the fourth quarter and that’s something that y’all have talked about all season is learning to close out games. Is there anything you can specifically point to that changed that — obviously health makes a big difference for you guys — but just the way you guys are closing out and the comfort you have in those late game situations and turning some of those close losses into close wins?
Yeah, I think we just … Nate’s done a great job of getting everybody in their right places. And really we’ve just taken our time, and I’m starting to understand and I got guys around me, guys like Gallinari and guys like Lou Will and understand when its winning time and when it’s time to go, when it’s time to slow down. So I think just knowing when the to do certain things is something that we’ve gotten better and I’ve gotten a lot better at, especially recently.
Yeah, and you’ve gotten a chance to play more with Bogdan Bogdanovic, who is obviously having a sensational shooting stretch. What does it do for you having another playmaker on the floor like that next to you, who can take some of that load away from you and really you guys can play off of each other?
Yeah. It’s been great having him back healthy and playing. It was tough having him out for most of that early part of the stretch when we were losing all those games too. And I think really just having him back, adds a shooter, adds another weapon. I mean he’s not really, like, I just put him as a shooter, labeled him as a shooter, but he’s more than that. Like he can really shoot, really score the ball, get other guys involved. He just knows how to play. He’s a really good basketball player. So I think it’s great having him as a teammate.
You’ve taken fewer threes this year, kind of back to where you were in your rookie year in terms of the volume. Is that just the way defenses are approaching you and pressing up higher and giving you more opportunity to kind of drive and get inside, or what has changed there that’s led you to taking more of your looks toward at the rim or in the in between where you’ve really developed that floater game?
Yeah, I mean, there’s definitely more film out there of me. And a lot of people knew I like to shoot threes or whatever, so I think guys are being more physical and more — I mean, pick me up higher this year. And I think that’s been really the main reason why I haven’t taken as many threes. So I think that’s been the main reason guys are picking me up a little bit higher this year in regards to previous years where they would be a little bit more back. So, I mean, it’s just more film out there.
Definitely. Where do you feel like you’ve grown the most in your game over the last three years as a pro? From where you came in as a rookie to now what are you most proud of your development so far?
Probably just my leadership, as far as developing leading vocally. I’ve always been a really good leader by example, but just understanding being a point guard in this league you gotta learn how to do both. Be a leader vocally as well as lead by example. So, just understanding that as I’m getting older, just to use my voice more and that people are going to listen whenever I use my voice. So I just gotta use it more, and so that’s something that I think I’m proud of that I’ve gotten a lot better at. I can still continue and I’m still learning and getting better at that each and every day.
Obviously you had a lot of time from when when the season got stopped last March to when it started again in December. What was your focus in the work you were putting in at home before training camp to be ready to be able to take another step this year?
Yeah, I mean my focus was not to be in that situation again. I mean my thought process and my focus was to get us to the playoffs. I mean, I didn’t care about anything else, I just wanted to be a part of the playoffs Sitting at home and I mean training while everybody was in the bubble was really killing me. So, knowing that if the season shut down again and we had to go to a bubble, I wanted to be a part of that, that playoff that bubbles. So that’s where my focus was.
You’re partnered with BODYARMOR for this One More campaign and what have you learned about taking care of your body and the hydration and nutrition that goes into as a pro? Because that’s something that I know for some young guys is a big transition and something that they learn early on about really having to take care of your body because you’re playing so many more games than you did in college.
Yeah, it was definitely something that I had to get adjusted to was playing 80 games and then, I mean, the back to backs and things like that. And, for me, just understanding I needed to hydrate my body and things like that. So fueling my body with BODYARMOR, which I’ve been consistently doing and I know it’s very important as athlete to be hydrated and stay hydrated while you’re playing. So, it’s very important and the One More campaign is gonna be great. I’m excited for everybody to see it. It really shows — I mean, it’s focusing on the work you put in behind the scenes. And so people will get to see it and it’s gonna be really cool.
Lastly, as you guys look forward to what looks like it’s gonna be reaching that goal of making the playoffs, what do you look at as going to be the key for you guys to not just make the playoffs but being able to maybe make a run and kind of push into later rounds?
I think just keeping the same mentality that we’ve been having, and not just getting to the playoffs and accepting just being there. I know everybody we’ve been talking, I’ve just said it, that one of our goals is to get to the playoffs this year, and once we get there, I can’t just be the end goal. We can’t just be satisfied with that. And so if we have the same mentality that we’ve been having recently and in the way we’ve been playing — which I don’t see it changing — I think we’ll be okay. We can win some games in the postseason.