An argument could be made now that Young supersedes even the Braves Ronald Acuna as the one fellow whose stunningly overpriced jersey you must own to hang with all the cool kids of the Atlanta sporting scene. Might Young merchandise be more the rage this Christmas now that Acuna - just 23 but still a year older than Young - is just so 2020? Either way, parents, start saving now.
Young definitely lapped Acuna in those standings defined by dollars. The Braves went all speculative on their young outfielder early, signing him to an 8-year, $100 million extension at the start of the 2019 season. That move figures to pay off handsomely for the Braves through 2028. But here’s hoping the two never meet and begin matching pay stubs because no one wants to see Acuna making $17 million a year (beginning in 2023) and feeling aggrieved.
The argument over Atlanta’s next-gen alpha athlete is wrapped in relativity, and one that’s entered into for entertainment purposes only. For no one really has to make a choice – between them, their overlapping seasons can keep fans here supplied pretty much year-long with an alternate energy source rivaling the sun and the wind.
Within the confines of his chosen sport, Young is not regarded as highly in the NBA as Acuna is in Major League Baseball. When all the parts are working, Acuna is a top-five talent in his league. Young may just be edging into top-20 territory within his.
But all the local recency bias favors Young, as he took Atlanta’s Hawks to places in the postseason they had never been while Acuna’s own brilliant season was interrupted by his first serious injury (knee).
Unlike Acuna, Young needn’t work around any language barrier to connect with the home crowd. And his sport markets its stars at a level that baseball has never grasped.
Reputations and images are forged in the postseason, and with just one season’s worth of those in the books, Young has shown himself a difference-maker unlike any other currently working the Atlanta main stage.
In the 16 playoff games in which Young has appeared during the Hawks conference final run, he scored 30-plus in half those. Four of his top five scoring performances were on the road, indicative of an unbending, defiant spirit. He became the youngest-ever player to total as many as 18 assists in a playoff game in Game 4 vs. Philly.
You want theatrical flair? How about hitting a 30-footer then taking a bow at midcourt at Madison Square Garden upon clinching the first round? He just might be the first NBA player nominated for a Tony.
You want assertiveness? How about averaging 38 points a game – including a 48-pointer at Milwaukee – in all three of the Hawks series openers on the road. Better yet, the Hawks won all three.
It’s iffy that the Hawks could have gotten past Milwaukee had Young not injured his foot midway through the conference final. But at least Young is a talent capable of feeding such fantasy.
Since 2018, Acuna has appeared in five playoff series (21 games) and has been on the slightly shady side of spectacular. Highlights include a grand slam in a win over the Dodgers in 2018, a .444 batting average in five games vs. St. Louis (scoring only one run and driving in two) and three multi-hit games in the 2020 playoff run, all wins. Overall postseason, he has hit .263 with three homers and nine RBIs. His .872 OPS is 50 points off his regular-season number.
Acuna will heal, and he will work his way back to the top of the Braves’ lineup, where he’ll once more make plenty of noise. He is made for a postseason to call his own.
Both Acuna and Young possess futures as bright as klieg lights – compare their relative brilliance any way you see fit. The best part is that we’ll get to stare directly into the intensity for years and years to come.