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Is Trae Young the Next Steph Curry?

The Atlanta rookie with the game-breaking offensive repertoire is making his mark on the NBA

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November 10, 2018

Compared to this past spring, the range of opinions on Atlanta Hawks' rookie Trae Young’s trajectory have narrowed. Once at about a 50/50 bust to All-Star ratio, the doubters are fewer and far between now that they've seen Young play at the NBA level. But they are still there. Of course, both the criticism and praise come with the caveat that they are based in projection and not a take on his current status, but many critics still maintain that his high turnover rate and inability to guard will not be outweighed by his superlative shooting.

 

No matter how you shake it though, Young is ahead of schedule. At just over 20 years old, he could use the next two years as game speed shooting drills (he pretty much already is) and still be on pace with the development of Steph Curry. Sorry, we have to—because, well, any Young evaluation is in comparison with Curry.

 

In college, the Curry comparisons were natural—both players were walking heat checks that launched threes that seemed to have the intent to make things personal, with baby faces that rub in their stature even further. However, that might be where the current comparisons end.

Curry’s shot selection, which fell short of any standard of shooting discernment during his rise, would be laughed at by Young. If Curry had the green light, Young was color blind. In their freshman years, Young averaged four more attempts per game despite being on a power conference roster. It took Curry two more years, plus the lengthened leash that comes along with being an upperclassman to surpass Young’s freshman year attempts. Ultimately though, as freshmen, Young’s scoring numbers in the Big 12—compared to the Southern Conference, which Curry competed in while at Davidson—are more impressive.

 

Additionally, while Curry’s current skill set has become the standard for that of a modern-day point guard, his ability to handle and facilitate as a "true point" was in question entering the draft.

 

You can discredit Young’s scoring by calling attention to his shaky shooting percentage but he has a clear leg up on Curry as an assist man at this point in his career. Young averaged three assists more as a freshman than Curry did as a junior.

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Like his scoring statistics, Young’s gunslinging play style slightly undercuts his assists average. While Young is ahead of where Curry was at his same age, Curry’s efficiency proved to be an honest indicator. It may seem funny to characterize the poster boy for audacious jumpers and no-look passes selective, but in comparison, Curry misses fewer shots and is less prone to turning the ball over.

 

This difference, however, may favor Young. With a head start as both a volume scorer and dimer, the extra reps that come along with the inconsistencies may prove crucial to his development. Even though the Warriors ultimately chose to ride with Curry over Monta (it's hard to believe this was a question at one point, but it was), the confidence of Curry and Young from their respective teams is not even comparable. The Hawks traded the most accomplished Euro of all-time and have since constructed a team and strategy that allows for infinite Trae Young. Young’s rookie attempts, assists and points averages nearly double Curry’s from his first year as a Warrior.

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Obviously, the freedom given to Curry paid off in his career trajectory. Relative to other elite players today, Curry can be considered a late bloomer, only making an All-Star team eight years removed from his high school graduation. If handing over the reins at a young age benefits Young’s development in a similar way, the league will have to further reassess the way it evaluates talent.

 

Comparing these two is fun. And it’s certainly not over. But the reason it’s important is because without Curry, there would be no Young. Curry proved that the league underestimated three-point shooting and floor spacing to the point that a player potentially mistakable for an everyday citizen could be a unanimous MVP. And Curry’s impact on the way teams scout talent is already noticeable. Even with Young’s miserable second half, he was still picked fifth—four spots ahead of Curry in 2009.