We wondered about his temperament. He hasn’t been flustered by anything the Knicks or Sixers have flung at him. The winning shot in Game 1 of Round 1 came when he waved off the screen John Collins was supposed to set – the screener had lost a sneaker – and dispensed with defender Frank Nkilitina via his own devices, which are considerable.
For all the fine nights Young had had as a Hawk, regular-season work in the NBA always carries a shadow of a doubt. To be really, you have to be really good when it matters. Young has held the Hawks together, and not just by making a bunch of shots. The key play of the vital Game 4 came on the pass he whipped along the baseline to Collins for the 3-pointer that drew the Hawks within a point. Young’s floater would put them ahead. His free throws kept them there.
It hadn’t been his greatest night. He missed 18 of 28 shots. He missed two free throws. His right shoulder was hurting. But he was the best player on the floor at game’s end, which tells us – though we’ve long suspected as much – he has a knack for timing. The great ones do.
He’s 22. In olden days, he would have just completed his senior season at Oklahoma. But here he is, four games into a series the Hawks weren’t supposed to win but still might. If you were the biggest Young fan in the world – that would be general manager Travis Schlenk, whose reputation hinges on his choice of Young over Doncic – you couldn’t have diagrammed a better postseason debut. Opposing fans haven’t rankled him. Opposing teams haven’t stopped him. Even after losses, Young hasn’t seemed irked. He’s having the time of his life.
For all the lovely moments Young has given us on the court, it’s an off-the-court exchange that makes me smile. When he takes his postgame seat before the Zoom camera, Young makes it a point to greet the Hawks’ staffer/moderator – who’s in a different location. “Hello, Jelani,” he says, and Jelani Downing responds, “Hello, Trae.”
We sportswriters sometimes group the famous people we cover into two camps – those who say hello first, and those who never do. The second category heavily outnumbers the first, so we note the exceptions. At a time when Trae Young is writing his name across the NBA sky, he’s grounded enough to say hello first. Good for him.