Hawks 6-1 Trae Young takes on Toronto's 7-1 Marc Gasol Monday. (AP Photo/John Amis)
Photo: John Amis/AP
Photo: John Amis/AP

Hawks’ Trae Young makes one old sportswriter rethink good and bad

Having followed basketball since shortly after the first peach basket went up in Springfield, Mass., I thought I had a pretty clear idea of what constituted a bad shot.

It’s like the old Supreme Court standard for obscenity — you know it when you see it. And, indeed, what is a bad shot if not basketball porn?

It’s a bad shot if the shooter is so far out that the ball has to clear customs before reaching the rim.

It’s a bad shot if the person taking it is being guarded like Meghan Markle’s privacy. 

It’s a bad shot if taken while driving to the basket against superior numbers of ill-tempered behemoths twice your size. If the only way to get off such a shot is to check your spine at the door, contort yourself impossibly and throw up your arms like they are no longer attached to your torso, it might be a bad one. 

Then Trae Young stutter-stepped into town. And now none of those traditional standards mean anything anymore. Everything I thought I knew about the sanctity of the shot has been junked.  

Was it a bad shot when, in the course of the Hawks’ 122-117 loss to Toronto on Monday, Young pulled up from 30 feet and barely grazed one off the front of the rim? No, no more so than when he did the same thing earlier in the same game and the shot fell purely through the net.

Was it a bad shot when he was fading away near the scorer’s table — so close he could have juggled the books if he was the nefarious type? No, because he somehow drew a foul from that distant frontier. Such a thing happens far more than it should, because opponents are so beguiled by Young’s range.

Was it a bad shot in the game’s last 99 seconds, Hawks trailing by 11, when he took one step back from the arc, pulled up with two Raptors running at him as he launched? No, that’s called the last best chance at winning. (The shot went in. Oh, and he was fouled. Four-point play. He would score 10 points in a 43-second spurt near the end.)  

Finally, was it a bad shot when near the close of the third quarter Young took one from the edge of the midcourt logo? OK, that might have been a bad shot. Although I wouldn’t swear to it in court now, so much has my confidence been shaken by Young’s guilt-free scoring.

Young went for 42 on Monday in a loss (something of a theme in these parts). He shot 20 times, made 11 of them. He earned every single one of those 20 attempts — no matter the distance, game situation, time left on the shot clock — by also chipping in 15 assists. 

One day after Hawks practice, I happened to mention to Young that he has forced one old coot to question his world view on the bad shot. Destroyed it, actually. He seemed pleased. “I got you. That’s a good thing,” he said with a smile.

What, then, one wonders is a bad shot in Trae Young’s universe? Or does such a concept even exist in that alternate dimension?

“The way the rhythm of the game is going, if I haven’t made a shot in three possessions and I come down and shoot a shot that I can hit — but it’s a long shot — early in the shot clock, that’s not a great shot,” he explained.

“You want to get the best shot possible, especially when you’re not in rhythm and especially when the game flow is not going your way. It’s all how the game is going, that’s how you can determine what’s a bad shot.”

There are too many nuances to Young’s definition — especially when a person has spent a lifetime just randomly blurting out, “Arghh, that’s a horrible shot,” whenever he darned well felt like it.

The old me would have classed at least a quarter of Young’s shots as ill-conceived. But having seen enough of them actually fall during the last season and a half, such instant judgment is no longer possible.  

It’s not just the outsider who struggles with separating good from bad while watching Young shoot from hither and yon.     

“It’s really tough to say,” teammate John Collins said, when asked his idea of a bad Young shot. “He’s taking shots from almost half court, but when he takes it with as much confidence as he does, and swagger, and makes them, it’s hard to say anything. He likes to shoot it, he wants those shots, who’s to tell him not to shoot them? As long as they keep going in, I’m going to keep cheering him.”

Honestly, watching this 21-year-old shoot — any time, any situation, from anywhere — is about the only consistently entertaining thing about a 10-34 team. Until the Hawks get competitive, let him shoot from the arena barber shop for all it matters. 

So I give up trying to make any distinction. It turns out that at this stage the only bad shot is any one Trae Young doesn’t take.

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.

About the Author

Steve Hummer
Steve Hummer
Steve Hummer writes sports features for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He covers a wide range of sports and topics.