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Trae Young isn’t Steph Curry, but Hawks rookie has to shoot better than this

Stephen Curry was in town Monday night, so you know what that means. By my count, Hawks rookie Trae Young fielded six questions about it before the game and another four after. 

“It’s hard to repeat myself and keep saying it, but I don’t really get caught up in it,” Young said. 

After Golden State buried the Hawks, it was Curry’s turn. 

“Honestly, it gets old,” Curry said. “He’s his own player.” 

The Curry-Young comparisons started as soon as the skinny Oklahoma freshman began making 3-pointers from absurd distances. They accelerated when Hawks GM Travis Schlenk, formerly of Golden State, drafted Young. The comparisons continue even as it’s become clear the shape of Young’s NBA game likely will be different. 

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But, thing is, those Young-Curry comparisons won’t last much longer if Young keeps shooting this poorly. Hardly any player who shoots it as much as Young misses so often. It’s not unusual for rookies playing large roles on bad teams to struggle, but Young’s shooting has been substandard even in that context. 

Through 24 games, Young has made 23.9 percent of his 3-point attempts and 47 percent of his 2-point tries. According to Basketball Reference, his effective field-goal percentage (42.6) ranks last among 45 players with usage rates of 25 percent or above (meaning they are central to their team’s offense). Young is taking a lot of shots (18.4 per 36 minutes) and missing a lot of them. 

I don’t point out Young’s poor shooting to make a sweeping judgment of his NBA potential. To the contrary, I still think he’s the real deal. Young has played in only 23 games, and his shooting, among other areas, will get better. 

Still, Young needs to make it happen because the rest of his game doesn’t work if he’s not shooting 3-pointers at a respectable clip. He’s nowhere near that right now. The Hawks are focused on player development, and Young’s wayward jump shot should be at the top of their list. 

So far the team isn’t sounding any alarms. The Hawks’ answer is for Young to keep working on his jump shot, and to do so in smarter ways. Young gets a lot of 3-point chances off screens in the middle of the floor, so those are the shots Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce wants him to spend more time practicing. 

About that: There remains a huge disparity between Young’s accuracy on pull-up 3-pointers vs. catch-and-shoots. According to NBA tracking data, he’s made 19 of 94 pull-up 3’s (20.2 percent) compared with 14 of 42 spot-ups (33.3 percent). 

There’s a fine line here for Young. He can get open pull-up 3’s because defenders worry most about his driving and passing ability. But opponents will give them those shots if he can’t make them, and it’s hard to make a living on pull-up 3’s. Curry does it, but then that’s one reason he’s a special player. 

For his part, Young said his shot selection has been fine. 

“I don’t think I’ve been shooting a lot of terrible shots,” he said. “I’ve missed a lot of shots when I’ve been wide open.” 

There’s some truth to that. Per tracking data, about half of Young’s shots have been “wide open” or “open.” Nearly all his 3-point attempts fit into one of those categories. At this early stage of Young’s career, it’s reasonable for the Hawks to expect him to improve his shooting on pull-ups rather than urge him to pass up those open chances because he’s missing. 

But my subjective view is that Young too often has bad timing on his deep pull-up 3’s. He takes them and misses at crucial moments early in the shot clock, killing the offensive flow. I like that Young isn’t afraid to go big, but that fearlessness needs to be balanced with smart, situational offense. 

I believe Young will figure it out in time. He won’t ever shoot as well as Curry, but that’s true of every player in the league. That’s one of many reasons why the Young-Curry comparison is unreasonable. 

There is no need to pigeonhole Young because can be a very good player without being a great shooter. He’s already shown that he can get to the basket, an element Curry needed time to develop. Young’s feel for the game and passing ability are advanced for his age. 

But back to Young’s shooting: it would help if he took more spot-up jumpers. That’s not simple because the Hawks are short on playmaking wings. Rookie Kevin Huerter’s recent addition to the starting lineup should help. I think Young also could benefit from playing more minutes alongside DeAndre Bembry and Jeremy Lin. 

Young also can better help himself get good spot-up chances. His off-ball awareness can be lacking. Young can learn from watching how Curry is constantly seeking open spaces when he doesn’t have the ball. 

“He’s always moving,” Young said. “He’s always a threat to score, always a threat to make a play.” 

Young finished with 20 points on 20 shots against the Warriors. He had just three assists vs. seven turnovers —some weren’t his fault, but Pierce said his decision-making on drives wasn’t good. I thought Young did respectable defensive work against Curry, who still went for 30 points on 17 shots (6-for-10 on 3-pointers). 

After the game, Young and Curry were asked about the comparisons that the people asking the questions like to make. Young said he doesn’t like comparisons “because the kid who is getting compared to someone, they don’t really get to enjoy the moment and embrace themselves as being their own version of them.” 

Trae Young isn’t Stephen Curry. He’s certainly not shooting like him now, and probably never will. Young will shoot better, though, and I think he is a key piece for a better Hawks future. 

“He’s got multiple championships, MVP’s,” Young said of Curry. “He has a lot of accolades that I don’t have. That’s the difference right now. That’s the only thing I care about.”

About the Author

Michael Cunningham has covered the Hawks and other beats for the AJC since 2010. 

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