Bradley’s Buzz: Does it make sense to build around Trae Young?

Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young (11) reacts after making a basket during the first half against the Chicago Bulls at State Farm Arena, Monday, February 12, 2024, in Atlanta. (Jason Getz /

Credit: Jason Getz

Credit: Jason Getz

Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young (11) reacts after making a basket during the first half against the Chicago Bulls at State Farm Arena, Monday, February 12, 2024, in Atlanta. (Jason Getz /

Six years after opting to build around Trae Young, the Hawks have apparently decided to keep building around him. That’s their prerogative. But is building around Trae Young such a great idea?

He just finished his sixth professional season. He’ll be 26 when the Hawks next play a game. He has made the All-NBA team once — in 2021-22 as a third-teamer. He might make the list of the league’s top 20 players: Hoops Hype had him No. 17 last fall. He also might not: ESPN had him 29th.

The Hawks acquired Dejounte Murray to give Young a backcourt complement, though Kevin Huerter wasn’t bad. They’ve decided to trade Murray, receiving a not-insignificant package of draft picks and players from New Orleans. It’s fair to call that a reasoned choice, Young being slightly younger and slightly more talented than Murray. It’s also fair to wonder if there were more buyers for Murray than for Young.

A seventh NBA summer has commenced with the Hawks in search of players who augment Young’s skills, which are considerable. Over the past two seasons, he’s the only player to average 25-plus points and 10-plus assists. His team didn’t finish above .500 either time. Over his time here, they’ve had two winning seasons. They’ve won two playoff series, both in 2021.

Young was the chief reason they upset the Knicks and 76ers. Had he not tripped over a ref in the epic Game 4 against Milwaukee, the Hawks might have reached the NBA finals. In those dizzying days, Young seemed capable of anything, and the choice to build around him — as opposed to Luka Doncic — seemed justified.

The Hawks have since gone 43-39, 41-41 and 36-46. They’ve traded Cam Reddish and John Collins. They dealt Danilo Gallinari in return for Murray, and Huerter to make room for Murray. Now they’re trading Murray. They spent the No. 1 pick on Zaccharie Risacher, a slender forward. Free agency having commenced, it will be instructive to see if any player of worth decides to join what is again Young’s team.

Not to be cruel, but Young has gone from Next Big Thing to a guy who mightn’t be as good as his numbers. His inability to mesh with Murray — who was, it must be said, excellent as a Hawk — leads us to wonder if a 6-foot-1 guard who needs the ball and who doesn’t do much at the other end can serve as the foundation for a championship team, and aren’t championships the goal?

First point of reference: Stephen Curry, 6-2. By his sixth season, he was MVP and his Warriors took the first of four titles, though Golden State was never entirely about Curry, never the prototype PG. Their first core four included Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Harrison Barnes. Their second added Kevin Durant as a Barnes upgrade. And Steph and Klay always had each other.

Second point of reference: Chris Paul, 6-foot. Maybe the purest of all PGs, but a cautionary tale. (And not just because the Hawks drafted Marvin Williams instead.) He’s 39 and on his sixth NBA club. He has had all manner of backcourt mates — from Jamal Crawford to James Harden to Devin Booker to Curry/Thompson — but has reached the finals once, that with Phoenix in 2021.

Third point of reference: Allen Iverson, 6-foot. By his fifth season, he was MVP and his Sixers reached the finals. He stayed great, but he would work in only one more winning playoff series. A Hall of Famer, he’s also a cautionary tale. Fitting pieces around a smallish guard isn’t easy. (Granted, the league was more big-centric in those days.)

Fourth point of reference: Isiah Thomas, 6-1. A Hall of Famer and twice an NBA champ. He was the Pistons’ cornerstone, though they didn’t become champs until they added backcourt complements (Joe Dumars, Vinnie Johnson) and upfront heft (those Bad Boys). Thomas could take over — he stacked 35 points on the Hawks in Game 3 of the 1987 Eastern semis — but takeovers weren’t always required.

Without Murray — who averaged 21.5 points here — you wonder if the Hawks will be able to outscore people. (They aren’t apt to out-defend anybody.) Kobe Bufkin wasn’t allowed to show much as a rookie. Risacher mightn’t be ready to start just yet. Jalen Johnson can score inside but isn’t a floor-stretcher. Bogdan Bogdanovic makes more sense as a sub. Clint Capela could be the next man traded.

Assuming the Hawks don’t turn around and trade Young — I can’t imagine such a scenario — they’ll be counting on him for an awful lot. Had you asked in 2021 if I thought he could carry a franchise, I’d have said yes. This, however, is 2024. Me, I’d have kept the other guy.

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