Trae Young was a generational shooter and passer at the college level and it showed in his draft position in the 2018 NBA Draft. The Atlanta Hawks decided to trade down from No. 3 to pick up Young at No. 5, whom they had in the same general tier as Luka Doncic, and a future first-round pick from the Dallas Mavericks.
While there may have been other players many preferred at No. 5, Atlanta went all-in on executing their vision of high-level shooting and passing up and down the roster, following up the Young pick with Kevin Huerter and Omari Spellman. The message was clear: Three-point shooting and playmaking are the highest-priority items on general managers Travis Schlenk’s to-do list and Young in particular fit his vision in every way.
Given his reputation, whether fairly or unfairly, as the “next Stephen Curry,” it may come as a surprise to many that Young is a very different player than one of the most devastating offensive forces in league history. While he flashed the Curry-like pull-up shooting at Oklahoma, he’s struggled getting to those same shots in Summer League and preseason thus far, giving rise to the worry that he doesn’t have the same physical tools that help make Curry what he is. Young’s not as strong, not as quick, and doesn’t have nearly the same handle, which combine to put him at a disadvantage when trying to dance his way open on the perimeter against NBA-level defenders.
However, Young is already, right now, a better passer than Curry is or ever was. He’ll walk into the league as one of the very best in that department immediately. Instead of working with the ball in his hands to get to his shots, many of Young’s best looks have come through his off-ball work. He’s still working on changing his mindset from the college and AAU levels, where he had the ball in his hands on every possession and was usually solely responsible for creating his own shot.
With Atlanta, he’ll be free to move without the ball and find holes in the defense, but only if he studies how the best shooters lull defenses to sleep before launching those deep bombs. It’s a new skill for Young, whose off-ball movement mostly comprised of running toward the ball to get it back in his pre-NBA career.
One way the Hawks’ coaching staff can get Young moving without the ball is to install specific plays that generate open shots for him after some of that off-ball movement. In Wednesday’s preseason game against the San Antonio Spurs, head coach Lloyd Pierce broke out an old favorite across the league when Atlanta ran a Hammer set to open the third quarter.