Trae Young on building more trust and chemistry with teammates

With his fourth-quarter performance Friday against the Bulls, Trae Young gave a master class on closing out a tight game.

He played mistake-free, with zero turnovers. He made clutch shots, with seven points. And, something that stood out from the rest to the Hawks’ coaching staff — he had five assists, leveraging the overwhelming attention the Bulls’ defense showed him into good looks for Danilo Gallinari (15 points in the fourth, 20 overall) and Clint Capela (eight points in the fourth, 22 overall).

Young always has been an excellent passer, so it’s not that statistic in and of itself that is so key. It’s the increasing trust Young (who finished with 42 points, nine assists and eight rebounds) has shown in his teammates as this season progresses, which no doubt helped the Hawks to their 120-108 win vs. the Bulls, putting them at 28-25 and the No. 5 seed in the Eastern Conference standings. They’ve won five of their past six games and have a favorable schedule in the season’s final stretch.

“For us to take the next step, Trae has to take that next step,” interim coach Nate McMillan said after the win. “He has some players on this team that they’ve added. … They added some veterans on the team to the roster, and these are guys that can play. They can help him. And he has to trust those guys. And he has to also organize and put those guys in position to do well and have success, and I thought he did that (Friday).”

McMillan has echoed that point a few times since taking over for Lloyd Pierce in early March, that Young showing trust in his teammates is vital, particularly considering how often Young, averaging 25.4 points and 9.5 assists in his third season, gets trapped and double-teamed on defense.

The past two seasons, the Hawks’ roster was not designed to win, as the franchise rebuilt. This roster is a significant departure from that, with much more talent added in the offseason and at the trade deadline, including Gallinari, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Tony Snell and Lou Williams, as the team aims to make the playoffs.

With that added firepower, the Hawks might not need him to take every shot, but they do need him to read the defense and make the right decision, whether that’s taking it himself or setting up someone else. His growth in making that judgment call is clear not only to McMillan, but to assistant coaches Melvin Hunt and Chris Jent, both of whom have been on the staff since the start of Young’s NBA career.

“Those guys that have been here with him for the last couple years, they are saying that they’ve seen a lot of growth,” McMillan said. “That last year, he wouldn’t have done that, or he would take the shot. I am seeing growth, and for us to get to that next level, he has to do those things. He has to recognize what the defense is trying to do, make them pay, take advantage of the mismatch. … That is recognizing who is out on the floor, not feeling as if you have to do it all yourself, recognizing that you do have teammates that can make some plays and putting those guys in situations where they can do so.”

Sometimes, there might be a mismatch in the paint, if a smaller player is defending Gallinari. Sometimes it might be Bogdanovic on the perimeter, if a bigger player has switched onto him.

Obviously, Young can still create offense in a pick-and-roll and can still make the decision to attack on his own. He did so in Friday’s win numerous times and had his floater going nicely. But McMillan was especially impressed with Young’s ability to recognize the defense, and if the Bulls were trapping or switching, stretch them out and make them pay accordingly.

“He’s such a talented player and he can do a lot of things, and sometimes he doesn’t have to work as hard as he does, sometimes,” McMillan said. “When you’re putting two players on the ball, what he needs to do, what we’ve been showing him and working on with him is stretch that defense and get that ball out of the trap. You have some teammates that can make plays. They can make passes, they can make shots. And your job is done.

“I think sometimes he feels that he can beat the double team and score himself, and at times, he needs to do that. But there are times where he needs to take advantage of that, allow him to commit to the ball, stretch them out and then get that ball out of the double team. And you’ve got guys that can knock down some shots, Bogi and Gallo and Tony Snell and Kevin (Huerter), all those guys, you’ve got perimeter shooters that can knock those shots down. I thought he did that (in Friday’s win).”

Young said that trust in his teammates is increasing, and a large part of that is building more chemistry with this group. The Hawks have nine new players on the roster this season, so as the guy running the offense most of the time, Young had to learn each individual’s tendencies and habits.

“I think I’m definitely learning to trust my teammates even more,” Young said. “But also, just playing with them more and understanding where they need the ball and where they’re best with the ball. It’s something that I have to know as a point guard, too. Understanding and knowing where Bogi likes to get his shots, if he likes pindowns, flares, little things like that that the outside world doesn’t necessarily understand or see that you have to really learn your teammates and build that camaraderie.

“I’m continuing to build and learn with these guys. I think I’ve gotten a lot better at understanding where they want the ball and like the ball, and I’m definitely trusting my teammates a lot more and it’s feeling good.”

Center Clint Capela said the Hawks’ team chemistry on the court is increasing, now that the team has an understanding of where and how different guys can impact the game, and credited Young, as a lot of it starts with him.

“Obviously, he’s the guy that makes the first choice in handling the ball, he makes the plays and most of the time he’s made the right choices before,” Capela said. “We’re here because he’s our leader on the court. He’s the guy who makes the difference with his passes or his shot, whatever he sees, and it’s been really huge for us. So we just need to keep going.”