A referee, third from left, keeps Portland Trail Blazers forward Trevor Ariza, second from left, and Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young (11) separated during a scuffle in the second half of an NBA basketball game Saturday, Feb. 29, 2020, in Atlanta. Ariza was charged with a technical foul. (AP Photo/John Amis)
Photo: John Amis/AP
Photo: John Amis/AP

Trae Young on dribble move against Trevor Ariza: 'It's part of basketball'

Trae Young again tried one of his flashier moves in the third quarter of  Saturday’s win over the Trail Blazers.

With the Hawks leading by 16 points, the second-year pro and All-Star starter brought the ball up the court and attempted to nutmeg — or dribble in the between the legs of — Trevor Ariza and find open space to advance the ball. It’s something the Young has done many times before, but this time Ariza, the 16-year veteran, didn’t take kindly to it. 

He stepped into Young and lowered his shoulder. The 6-foot-1, 180-pound Young ricocheted off the 6-foot-8, 215-pound Ariza, then asked his home crowd for noise after the scuffle. 

Ariza was awarded a flagrant-1 foul, and on the next play, Young hit a floater near Ariza and received a technical foul for taunting afterward. 

After the game, Ariza and Young spoke at mid-court, with Ariza later telling Jason Quick of the Athletic: “I told (Young), ‘Don’t do that s--- again; not to me, at least. I mean, I’ve never made an All-Defensive team or none of that s---, and he’s an All-Star, so he can be creative by ways to get around me. But all the, like, funnies? I’m not with the funnies. I don’t like funnies.” 

Young sees it differently. Most of the time, the move is advantageous in helping him blow past defenders and get to the basket. It’s also meant to be an energy play, like a big dunk or lob (those exciting moments helped Young finish first among Eastern Conference guards in All-Star fan voting).

To name a few times he’s used the move successfully, he did it to J.J. Redick in the Hawks’ loss to the Pelicans in the preseason, finishing with a layup, to the Nuggets’ Will Barton in their win in Denver Nov. 12, finishing with a baseline jumper, and to the Knicks’ guard RJ Barrett in Team USA’s Rising Stars win Feb. 14, finishing with a floater.

“I use it to create space, I use it for my advantage,” Young said. “(Ariza) can call it what (he wants)... it’s not to showboat, it’s flair and excitement. It’s basketball and entertainment. ... Ain’t gotta be serious 24/7. You can smile, you can have fun, you can engage with the crowd, you can flex, you can do whatever you want. Have fun with it.” 

Young using his craftiness and handles to his advantage is not all that different from others using their physical size and strength to dunk on opponents, per Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce. 

“He’s a 6-foot point guard, 6-foot-1 point guard, very crafty and creative,” Pierce said. “He’s got to find unique ways to go by guys ... Sometimes it’s quickness, sometimes it’s nutmeg. People weren’t complaining about Shaquille O’Neal dunking on them every single game. You’ve got to figure out how to stop it. But in the same regard, Trevor’s a vet. Trevor’s got pride. He did what he had to do.” 

After the game, Pierce said Ariza approached him to address things and Pierce said that while he understands Ariza wasn’t happy with Young trying to nutmeg him, it’s Young’s prerogative to go for it, just like it’s Ariza’s prerogative to respond. 

It’s not a matter of disrespect, in Pierce’s eyes, just a move Young uses to try and help the Hawks win. 

“I said, ‘Hey. He made a basketball move. You made a basketball reaction,’ ” Pierce said. “You play on. What’s the conversation about? And I respect Trevor and I respect what he did, but I’m not telling Trae not to nutmeg. That’s his game. He’s done it a million times. It gets our fans going, and he creates off that. How many has he done and scored? I’m good with it. Score the basket. Go get the technical free throw. All we’re trying to do is win the game… I don’t think anybody’s disrespecting anyone.”

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