When the playoffs began last month, a Narrative-with-a-capital-N began to form around Trae Young. The Sparknotes version: he’s a flopper; a showboat; an obnoxious supervillain with bad hair who looks like, uh, some guy’s dad’s dick. All this hostility, naturally, comes from a place of genuine admiration. By eliminating the upstart New York Knicks and stealing home-court advantage from the Philadelphia 76ers, Young authored his own legend in real-time. By being equal parts unstoppable and unapologetic, he’s made his own myth and placed himself within a proud lineage of NBA antagonists.
In a postseason now absent of Stephen Curry and Damian Lillard, Young has staked his claim as the NBA’s most dangerous—and maybe most confounding—point guard. Through seven games, Young averaged nearly 29 points and 10 assists per game. Besides his genius passing, there’s no obvious reason why Young is so dominant beyond the fact that defenses are simply unable to guard him. He’s quick, but neither tall nor especially fast; a good shooter, but hardly an elite one; a slippery dribbler, but not a magical one. Instead, he befuddles defenses because he has internalized the rules and rhythms of the game, ever-aware of the exact rotations that his movement will provoke and how to abuse them.
As the ball-handler in a pick-and-roll, Young is like a student who has stolen the answer key to a test. Send help from the weak-side and he’ll whizz the ball to a now-open shooter; step up to stop his penetration and he’ll toss a lob over your head to the rolling big man. Do your damnedest not to allow a corner-three or an alley-oop and he’ll amble into an uncontested floater. For opposing teams, the road to getting vivisected by Young is paved with good intentions.