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Trae Young and the Most Entertaining NBA Draft Debate in Years

Is Trae Young for real? Will he be the next Steph Curry? Will he be the No. 1 pick? The Oklahoma freshman has taken the college basketball world by storm—and we can't stop wondering about his future.

Trae Young is a freshman point guard at Oklahoma who's currently averaging 29.4 points, 10.6 assists, and 3.9 rebounds for the 12–1 Sooners. He began the year ranked No. 55 on SI's Big Board. This week, Jeremy Woo projected him as the 7th pick in next year's draft. Here are 12 Trae Young thoughts after watching him the past two months. 

1. I need someone to design an entirely separate internet where all we do is discuss Trae Young and what he could become in the NBA. No political news, no NBA highlights, no culture, no NFL playoff games, no scouting reports on anyone else coming out in next year's draft. We need a safe space dedicated exclusively to discussing the full spectrum of Trae Young possibilities, and what the hell is happening in Oklahoma.

2. I was late to this discussion. When Young was tearing through the PK80 Invitational during Thanksgiving Week, friends told me about his numbers—28 and 5 against Arkansas, 33 and 8 against Portland, 43 and 7 against Oregon —and I assumed this was some kind of fluke. Young was nowhere to be found in preseason mock drafts, so when he began raining down buckets on every team he played, I told friends that this must be some kind of Jimmer Freddette situation. At best, he was Buddy Hield. Trae Young was not someone to take seriously next to the best prospects in the country. 

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3. But did you see the TCU game last weekend? Young had 39 and 11 and beat the No. 10 team in the country on the road. That came after Christmas Week, when he had 26 points and 22 assists against Northwestern St. He followed that with 31 points and 12 assists against Northwestern. The other night against Oklahoma State I watched him go 6 of 17 with six turnovers in one of his worst games of the season, and he still finished 27 points, 10 assists, and nine rebounds in a 20-point win. 

I'm beginning to think Young should be the No. 1 pick. At the very least, after the past two months it's clear that he belongs in the conversation. ​

4. We've known all along this was going to be a top-heavy draft, with four or five potential franchise players headlining the class. That's way more superstar talent than normal. But all the stars we knew about come with questions. DeAndre Ayton is a massive center who's a perpetual threat for 20 points and 20 rebounds, but he's had a questionable motor on defense. Marvin Bagley is an ultra-skilled four who can score in a dozen different ways, but his perimeter shooting isn't quite there (35% from three), and he's not protecting the rim, either. Luka Donic has been spectacular for Real Madrid in Spain and he helped lead Slovenia to a Eurobasket title this summer, but there are reasonable questions about how he'll fare against NBA athletes (example: this matchup Jordan McRae). Mo Bamba has Rudy Gobert length and mind-bending potential on both ends, but he's still fairly raw. Michael Porter Jr. has the outlines of a young Kevin Durant, but he may also be closer to Danny Granger, and either way, he'll enter the draft after missing the entire year with an injury. Then there's Trae Young.


5. I'm not saying he's Steph Curry, but while most of his top–five peers have familiar draft profiles, Young is the first NBA prospect we've ever seen who evokes not-entirely-crazy comparisons to the player who's spent the past four years turning the entire NBA upside down. At least so far, Young's college numbers are slightly better: he's averaging five more assists, he's one-point better as a scorer, and he's shooting 41% from three (on 10 attempts) to Curry's 38% in his final year at Davidson. 

6. Young is small—listed at 6'2, but that looks generous—and he's not an eye-popping athlete. There's reason to worry about his defense, and in part because everything he's doing feels like it's too crazy to be real, I've worried about how he'll fare against NBA length and athleticism. But if he's not exactly Dennis Smith Jr. as an athlete, he's also one of the craftiest college guards I've ever seen. He's slippery around screens and finds every inch of daylight like a running back. He makes lightning–quick decisions, and as he attracts massive amounts of attention from every defense he faces, he's looked like almost as dangerous as a passer as he is a shooter (hence the assist numbers).

7. The avalanche of crazy stat lines doesn't guarantee anything, obviously. Guys like Freddette and Hield were doing similar things to college defenses before the NBA made everything more complicated. There are dozens of examples who lived that same story. Even someone like Tyus Jones was torturing teams in college before the size and speed of NBA defenders rendered him ordinary. All of that history is reason to be cautious with Young. But for every concern about size or defense, by far the most valuable skill in today's NBA is the ability to hit threes off the dribble, and Young can already do that better than any prospect in several years. It's why he draws attention everywhere he goes on offense. Couple that with his knack for initiating contact to get to the line—9.5 free throws per game—and passing that makes his gravity twice as dangerous, and there's reason to buy in regardless of past cautionary tales. 

8. The Steph Curry comparison falls apart because of how much better Steph became once he got to the NBA. He left Davidson and became much better at everything he did well, while also eliminating practically all of his weaknesses (including injuries). Projecting any college player to retrace the steps of one of the 10 or 15 most dominant players of all time is obviously a bad idea. Still, Young has been good enough to make you wonder about all the wildest outcomes. If he keeps this going it's only going to get harder to resist reckless optimism. Maybe he won't be Curry, but what if he's Steve Nash?

9. All of this is setting up for one of the most entertaining draft questions in years. Next to a class that has every superstar prospect archetype—the high-ceiling big guys, the scoring forward, a do-everything guard, a rangy wing—Young has entered the conversation as a wild card who could be more valuable than any of them. But do you buy–in? Do you worry about his size? How much of this is real? Would a team really have the guts to draft him above a player like Ayton or Bagley? All fair questions.

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10. LeBron has already offered his endorsement, and yes, so has Steph Curry. And Young will be tested against elite talent more than Curry ever was in college. Oklahoma plays at No. 6 West Virginia on Friday night, hosts No. 17 Texas Tech next week, and later this month they'll meet Alabama and another lottery-bound point guard, Collin Sexton. We'll all have to wait and see how this unfolds.

11. At the moment, the best part of Trae Young's season is how little anyone knows for certain. Young wasn't even supposed to crack the top 50 NBA prospects in college basketball this year. Now he's a fixture in every top 10 and Oklahoma's one of the best teams in America. I'm sure there will come a time when most basketball fans have seen enough of his game to form an opinion about his future one way or the other. Then we'll all have the usual pre-draft screaming matches about what his future holds, why the haters or believers are wrong, why every team should or shouldn't draft him, etc. But as of early January, this has been so wild that it's almost like everyone's afraid to commit one way or another. Instead, everyone's just watching this happen and texting friends and trying to figure this out together. It's wonderful.

12. And see? This is why it's important to have a separate internet for Trae Young. Leave all takes and predictions and arguments to every other prospect. It will be much better to sit back and spend the next few months watching Oklahoma basketball and wondering about the NBA, completely baffled.