Trae Young never doubted that his game would improve so rapidly, going from a slow start in his rookie season to an All-Star starter in Year 2, at age 21.
“I worked too hard not to believe that,” Young said. “So for me, I believed it. I believe in the work I’ve put in, and I feel the work I put in is going to translate to on the court. That’s all I’ve been trying to do, and that’s what I’m trying to do right now is try to elevate my game so that we’re in a better position next year.”
Unfortunately, it’ll be a while before Young can get back on the court in an official capacity, as the Hawks (with 15 games still outstanding) recently entered their offseason and are looking at about a nine-month gap between games. The NBA, which suspended play March 11 because of the coronavirus, plans to restart the season with a 22-team format July 31, with the 2020-21 season tentatively scheduled to begin Dec. 1.
Young doesn’t think that extended gap will hurt the Hawks too much if they’re able to work out together and continue to develop. The Hawks, along with the other eight teams that were more than six games out of playoff contention and thus excluded from the season’s restart, are collaborating to propose an offseason plan to present to the league (who would then take the plan to the Players Association for approval), per general manager Travis Schlenk, whether that involves looser practice facility rules or scrimmaging against other teams.
At first, Young was angered by the Hawks’ exclusion, which truncates their season.
“I was mad,” Young said. “I was frustrated, obviously. I want to play. I want to play as much as I can, but I understand what the NBA did and I respect their decision. They want to make it as safe as possible and maybe taking (fewer teams) will make that possible, rather than us just going out there and playing games just to finish our season. So I understand what was made, but obviously I’m kind of upset because I want to play.”
But, being one of the eight excluded teams has motivated Young — next season, he hopes an improved Hawks team won’t have this problem.
“I think, for us, getting this time off is really motivating all of us to not be in this position again next year,” Young said. “I know it is for me. I’m trying to win, and I know everybody else is, too. I think we’re all going to be really motivated going into the season, and even going into the offseason about training and what we’re going to do to help get us to that next level next year.”
Young was encouraged by the way the Hawks (20-47) were trending toward the end of the season and optimistic about the team moving forward. After starting 8-32, hampered by John Collins’ suspension, two injuries to Kevin Huerter and the lack of a productive center, the team finished 12-15, bolstered by Collins’ return, improved play from Cam Reddish, a healthy Huerter and the addition of Dewayne Dedmon and Jeff Teague. They finished 14th of 15 Eastern Conference teams.
On an individual level, Young wants to improve his conditioning, which could help him on offense and defense. Young was second in the NBA in assists, averaging 9.3 assists per game, and was fourth in scoring with 29.6 points per game. For all his heroics on offense, though, Young continues to struggle as a defender.
“I want to continue to get better in all areas,” Young said. “I think for me and my game to grow and take it to an even higher level is just my conditioning, my shape. Being able to play at 100% for a long period of time on both ends, I think for me to try and get in shape and make sure that I’m able to play super hard on both ends is going to be very important for me for next year.”
Young said he already reached out to Reddish, Collins, Huerter, Clint Capela and other teammates about plans to get together and work out (in whatever capacity they can), taking the initiative to organize some team interaction.
Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce and Travis Schlenk have also voiced concerns over not playing a game for such a long stretch, which is why figuring out offseason guidelines is an important next step.
“Wherever it is, we’re going to get some work in together,” Young said. “We can’t go five, six months without seeing each other and getting some work in with each other because we’re trying to take this to new heights next year. So for us to do that, we’ve got to have a close connection and a close bond, and I know just working together is going to do that.”
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