The success of second-year Atlanta Hawks point guard Trae Young has taken the NBA somewhat by surprise, even his own head coach.
The 21-year-old former All-American at Oklahoma has been a dominant force this season as the Hawks visit Philadelphia on Monday. The 6-foot-1 Young is averaging 30 points and had his first 50-point outing last week in a 129-124 win over the Miami Heat. In addition, Young averages 9.2 assists and 4.4 rebounds and has posted 35.8 points over his past five games. He’s the first second-year NBA player to average 30 points since Bob McAdoo averaged 30.6 in 1973-74 for the Buffalo Braves.
Because of his standout performances, Young became the first Hawks player named an All-Star starter since Dikembe Mutombo in 1998.
“He is probably better than everyone thought, not in terms of his ability to score. He has scored at every level, leading the nation as a [freshman] in scoring and assists, so he is capable of doing it,” Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce said after Atlanta’s morning shootaround. “We all knew that. I think the hardest thing to do or even envision is coming in and doing it every single night.”
Pierce, a former Sixers assistant who was named the Hawks coach before last season, talked about the expectations that Young now faces. As an example, Pierce pointed out the Hawks’ most recent game, Saturday’s 111-107 home win over the Dallas Mavericks when he had 25 points and 10 assists, shooting 10-for-21 from the field.
“He ended up with 25 and 10 in a win and ended up having not a great night,” Pierce said. “So that is the challenge, not the capability to do it, but the consistency to do it, and he has done it consistently all year for us.”
In the first game after the All-Star break, Young had the first 50-point game of his career, during Thursday’s 129-124 win over the visiting Miami Heat.
“It was special, I was excited,” he said about the career high.
He then gave his jersey to rapper Quavo.
“I thought about keeping it but it won’t be my last time" scoring 50, he said. “I was happy but more happy that we got the win, too.”
Atlanta (17-41) has been getting a lot more wins lately as a result. The Hawks are 9-9 in their past 18 games.
In Young’s two seasons, the Hawks are 4-2 against the Sixers. This year, the Sixers won by 105-103 in Atlanta on Oct. 28 and lost, 127-117, also in Atlanta, on Jan. 30. In that game, Young scored 39 points and added a career-high 18 assists.
Young gives Pierce a lot of credit for the way the Hawks have played against the Sixers.
“I think a lot of it has to do with LP having coached here, having coached a lot of their players,” Young said. “He knows the schemes that they like and don’t like.”
It certainly doesn’t hurt to have Young running the offense. In six career games against the Sixers, he is averaging 26.3 points and 10.5 assists.
While others might have been surprised at Young’s quick success, he isn’t one of them.