Just a few short weeks ago, it was fair to wonder if Oklahoma dynamo Trae Young should be the No. 1 pick in the upcoming 2018 NBA draft. He was blitzing opposing defenses across the country, marching into arena after arena and pouring in 30.2 points and 9.5 assists per game while shooting 40.9% from three-point land. But that conversation came to a halt once the calendar flipped to February, as the Sooners would suffer a six-game losing streak and watch their freshman phenom sputter.
Young finished the regular season scoring just 21.2 points and dishing 7.2 assists per game while converting only 25.3% of his triples during Oklahoma's final 10 games. Tucked into that stretch: His only college game without a made three-pointer, four other contests in which he failed to shoot above 20% from deep, and myriad scowls and frustrated faces. There’s context to acknowledge here: Big 12 defenses clamped down on the point guard, often completely ignoring one or even two of his perimeter teammates. And Young saw more double-teams out of pick-and-rolls than open driving lanes.
Still, there was a scorching-hot Trae Young that powered Oklahoma to a 16–5 start, and a struggling Trae Young that led the Sooners to a 2–8 finish to the season. Which version will enter the NBA in June? Or is the real Trae Young somewhere in the middle? The Crossover’s Front Office polled five scouts around the league for their impression of Young’s rollercoaster rookie season.
Scout 1: "Obviously at the beginning of the year he was playing out of his mind. I think everybody realized that was probably his best. It wasn’t as if anybody thought he was going to continue to play that way forever. Lately teams have guarded him differently. We need to figure out, how much has his decline been that people have been able to stop him, how much of it has been how his body wore down and how that will translate to to the course of an 82-game season? We never had him as a top-four pick when he was at his peak. When he was at his peak, he was probably in the 5–8 range, and now after his drop off he’s probably still 7–12.
"Nobody is worried about his skill level. You look around his team, and there’s not a lot of talent. He’s not going to be guarded that way in the NBA. If it is, that means he’s going to be scoring 30 points per game, and you’ll take that. What I would say is, the biggest concern to me is is this his body not holding up? Is this his bolding not holding up physically because he has a thin frame and if he can’t hold up over 35 games, how can he hold up over 82 games? But he’s still an elite talent and I don’t think that this downturn is going to change too much, at least for us."
Scout 2: "I’ve got him right now as the 11th player in the draft. I’m a little concerned he’s developed bad habits. He’s not going to be able to shoot 30 times a game in the NBA because his veterans will kick his ass. He hasn’t been efficient. His shot selection has gotten so bad and he’s turnover prone. I don’t think it’s fair to any kid to compare him to Steph Curry. He’s a scary prospect for me, but he clearly has done some really big things. You don’t average 30 and 9 like he did as a freshman without a whole lot of talent."
Scout 3: "I was never high on him to begin with because of his physical limitations, lack of athleticism and how he doesn't defend. He's not someone I would take in the lottery. He's a good backup to me."
Scout 4: "Trae's stock has took a dip. Team workouts are important for him. He's still a dynamic and talented player, more than likely will still be a top 10 pick. I thought he was playing himself into the top five. Now I think he's more 8–9 range. I have him at nine on my board, behind Sexton. I think Trae is more of a point than Sexton, though. Collin is more of a scoring guard."
Scout 5: "He’s trending down. The problem I have with him, I understand there’s the natural Steph Curry comparison, but standing next to Steph and standing next to Trae, he’s significantly smaller, he’s more frail and he doesn’t have the same physical tools that Steph has as far as sheer size, not that Steph’s a huge guy. A worry I have about him is physically holding up. I think a part of that is definitely mental. He knows that he’s getting beat up and his body’s taking a toll. I think the physical load he has to carry, surrounded by—you know it’s almost like Kobe in the Smush Parker years—that’s gonna take a toll at a certain point, he’s just not on a team loaded with NBA players.
"I think the expectations were put a little too high. They were an 11-win team last year. I think he’s incredibly talented, I think he has great hand-eye coordination, has a really quick trigger, really good range. I think his best skill is his passing and vision. That’s his best trait. He’s not a very good athlete, but he has excellent acceleration going end-to-end and 0–to–60. But he’s definitely been exposed a bit. He was pretty high on my board in January and now I feel like there would be more hesitation with drafting that guy. I don’t like his mental approach on the defensive end. The guy doesn’t provide effort on defense. Once in a blue moon he’ll try to lock up, but most of the time he’s not even trying. For some coaches, you’re not even going to sniff the floor if that’s your approach. He’s not my No. 1 point guard in the draft anymore, but he’s still in the top three."