Trae Young perched behind a podium at All-Star media day Saturday, surrounded by hoards of reporters, with fans screaming his name as he later walked back through the tunnel at Wintrust Arena.
In only his second season in the NBA, it’s a lot of attention for the 21-year-old to manage. But Young, who became the face of the franchise in his breakout rookie season and built on it significantly this season, becoming the first Hawks player voted an All-Star starter since Dikembe Mutombo in 1998, sees this spotlight as an opportunity to put his team and organization on the map.
“That’s what I’m trying to do,” Young said. “I’m trying to continue to represent us the best way I can and come out here and put on a show. And try to do well while I’m out here.”
Young got off to a hot start Friday, with 18 points and a team-high seven assists in Team USA’s 151-131 Rising Stars Challenge win vs. Team World. He was eliminated in the first round of Saturday’s 3-point competition, and will start alongside Kemba Walker, Pascal Siakam and Joel Embiid for Team Giannis against Team LeBron in the All-Star game Sunday.
On a team with a 15-41 record, he’s in an interesting spot. Young is a budding superstar leading a young core with potential, even more so after adding former Houston center Clint Capela at the trade deadline, that has yet to find its footing.
He’s the second player in league history to compile more than 2,000 points and 800 assists through his first 100 games (Oscar Robertson was the first) and recorded the first 40-point triple-double in franchise history in a loss to Houston on Jan. 8. He’s second in the league in assists (9.2) and third in scoring (29.7 points per game).
Young’s stellar individual performances and constant highlight reel plays landed him in Chicago. But while he’s here, he wants to get the Hawks’ name and brand out there, as the franchise rebuilds (after all, it’s rare to find a Hawks game on national TV, and their record isn’t doing much to generate national interest).
He disagreed with being only one on the team invited to the Rising Stars challenge, thinking teammates Kevin Huerter, Cam Reddish and De’Andre Hunter deserved a shot. But being the only one named to that Team USA roster, Young decided to push forward and participate in all three days.
“Maybe if we had two other guys in the Rising Stars game, I would think about maybe resting that day,” Young said Feb. 12 in Cleveland, the Hawks’ last stop before the All-Star break. “But if we don’t have anyone else going, for us to get that national exposure, on TNT, Friday night, All-Star night (Sunday), everybody watching, for us to get that national exposure is not something I’m going to take for granted. I’m going to enjoy it and use it to our advantage.”
With this platform, though, comes added scrutiny and attention, as Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce told Young soon after he was named a starter.
“When you’re an All-Star, you assume the responsibility of what an All-Star means, and what that means to your team,” Pierce said. “Leadership, accountability, the attention you’re going to get, managing the expectations. We go as he goes. When you’re an All-Star, it’s like, ‘Why did they lose? How was Trae? Why did they win? What did Trae do?’”
Having Young named a starter in the All-Star game is also a heads-up, Pierce said, that the Hawks are hoping to steadily improve as they develop players, draft talent and and bring in veterans around Young, whose star continues to rise.
“What is the future of the Atlanta Hawks?” Pierce said, posing the question. “It’s to grow these young guys, but be a destination that players want to come to. We want to be a contending team for years to come, and it starts with having a young, second-year player as an All-Star. There’s no denying what he’s doing, what he’s capable of doing. And that’s attractive to our fan base, that’s attractive to our city but it also puts the rest of the league and the rest of the players, as you go into this, it puts them on notice that ‘Hey, there’s something special going on in Atlanta.’”
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