The story of this year’s NBA playoffs has been the ascent of Trae Young.
The 22-year-old has his Hawks three wins away from the NBA Finals. A trip to the Finals would mark the franchise’s first since John F. Kennedy was U.S. president in 1961 and the Hawks were located in St. Louis. The team has the second-longest finals drought in the league, but Young is poised to rewrite history, which has caught the attention of Basketball Hall of Famer Reggie Miler.
“People say Trae Young is borderline cocky, but I don’t mind that,” said Miller, who is teaming with the legendary Marv Albert on the TNT broadcast team for this series. “I like a guy who’s so confident in his skills.”
In game one, Young painted a 48-point, 11-assist masterpiece. His brilliance was on full display in the third quarter, when he delivered the shimmy heard ‘round basketball as he drilled another three-quarter. Young is as charismatic as he is compelling on the court, and he appears to relish the role of playing the villain in front of the opposing’s teams crowd, also a signature trademark for Miller during his career.
“Becoming the villain, that’s almost bestowed upon you,” said Miller. “It was bestowed upon me from my clashes with the New York Knicks. Not everyone is going to be able to wear the white hat and be cheered and adored in important buildings. Michael Jordan was adored everywhere he went. I embraced wearing the black hat, and it kind of looks like Trae enjoys being on the road, performing at the highest stakes and quieting crowds. His skill set is so good and he is so talented, and people cheer and boo because they really respect his game. I think he’ll appreciate that the older he gets, but it’s been a pleasure to watch.”
Young can manipulate a defense in the mid-court in a manner unlike any other player in the league. His skill set features elite shooting and ball handling, as well as an array of tear jumpers, floaters, pull-ups, step-backs, and runners. These are all a byproduct of countless hours in the gym, and his bravado on the court embodies the sacrifices he has made in pursuit of greatness. But in order for the Hawks to advance to the Finals, they will need from scoring depth from the likes of John Collins, Kevin Huerter, and Clint Capela.
“They’ve been doing it by committee, but they need a secondary scorer,” said Miller. “You need to rely on a guy to give you buckets to maintain the lead or keep you within striking distance. That’s something I’ll be looking for as this series progresses.
“But Atlanta is playing with house money. No one expected them to be here. They’re playing loose, they’re playing free, and all the pressure is on the Bucks.”
Miller also provided insight for the Western Conference Finals, where the Phoenix Suns lead the Los Angeles Clippers, two games to one, in their best-of-seven series. The Clippers defended home court with a win last night, despite the return of Chris Paul, who had missed the first two games of the series while in the NBA’s health and safety protocols.
This marks the sixteenth season in the league for Paul. Miller finally reached the Finals during his thirteenth season, and he has the ability to relate to Paul’s long journey to the championship round.
“I certainly know the emotions he’s going through, to be so close,” said Miller. “I certainly appreciated it, me being in my thirteenth year, finally getting to the Finals. I’d been to the conference finals four or five times previously. It’s funny, people always want to talk about the big shots and the moments I had. Personally, I relive the moments that could have helped me to the Finals. So I’m sure he’s appreciating the moment that is at hand.”
Another integral element in the success of the Suns has been the play of Devin Booker, who has risen his game to an even higher level this postseason.
“I wanted to see how Devin Booker was going to handle the pressure being teamed with Chris Paul, who demands so much, seeing how they were going to be able to perform, especially in that first round matchup against the Lakers,” said Miller. “He has not disappointed. It’s good to have fresh blood with these final four teams. People want to see the old guard, but it’s good to see fresh faces performing at a high level.”
Miller also shared his excitement for the return of Rick Carlisle as coach of the Indiana Pacers. Carlisle, the longtime coach of the Dallas Mavericks, just accepted a deal with Indiana, where he first had the opportunity to work with Miller over two decades ago when he was associate head coach of the team when Larry Bird was head coach. Since then, Carlisle has had head coaching jobs with Detroit, Indiana, and Dallas, where he was won a title in 2011.
“Pacer Nation has to be excited,” said Miller. “They’re getting one of their own back home. In terms of preparation, game management, practice plans, I know his attention to detail. It took my game to a different level. You saw that in Detroit, and obviously in Dallas.”
It has been seven years since the Pacers cracked the 50-win threshold, and they just concluded an underwhelming season that saw them finish four games under .500. Carlisle will mark the third head coach in as many seasons for the underperforming Pacers.
“It’s more so time now for the players currently with the Pacers to start looking at themselves in the mirror,” said Miller. “They ran off Nate McMillan, who is a final four coach here. First-year head coach Nate Bjorkgren, gone in one year. The players have no excuses now.
“They’re getting a Hall of Fame coach, a guy that’s won a championship, [so] it’s time for these players to start looking in the mirror a little bit. But it’s a sunny day in Indiana to get Coach Carlisle back.”
More NBA Playoffs Coverage:
• Pina: The NBA Playoffs All-Money Team
• How It Feels to Watch the Team You Built Thrive Without You
• Bromberg: The Hawks Found an Unlikely Hero in Kevin Huerter
• Trae Young Silences Another Away Crowd With Career Performance in Game 1