"I just feel like I'm different. In today's game, my game fits the winning styles of the NBA... When you have point guards and guards who are able to stretch the floor and shoot the ball and able to pass and get their teammates open, that's what helps you win games in the NBA."
That was what Trae Young prophesied the night before the 2018 NBA Draft. Since then, the point guard has developed into one of the best scorers and passers in the game. Every problem has a solution. Every challenge met with a giant leap forwards. His game fits the winning style.
This season Young has been forced to adjust to rules changes (and the occasional gimmick defense for good measure). The new rules eradicate Young's patented move that forced his way to the foul line like a funeral procession for opposing defenses. Young's free throw attempts have dramatically decreased. He went from fourth in the league (8.7) in attempts per game to sixteenth (5.3).
If having a significant stream of offense nerfed by the league wasn't enough, Young is also facing more eccentric defenses. Teams are scheming to stop him from getting to his spots and eliminating his alley-oops to John Collins and Clint Capela. Last week, Golden State turned the tables by using the box-and-one defense on Young.
Last night, the Orlando Magic tried putting 6'9 Franz Wagner on Young, knowing Young can't get slower defenders into foul trouble anymore. Following the game, Young said, “Coaches like to put bigger guys on me to be more physical. If that’s what they think can work, I obviously encourage them to keep doing it.”
At the start of this season, critics were poised to pounce. But like Young said in June of 2018, his ability to stretch the floor and find open teammates results in winning basketball. His playstyle is his north star. As of this morning, Young leads the league in total assists (136). This is while the team is 20th in the league in effective field goal percentage (51.7 eFG%).
Despite all logic, Young's statistics have either remained the same or improved from last season through the first 15 games of the season. His 25.5 points and 9.1 assists per game put him on par with his monstrous 2020-21 campaign. Yes, things could change as this season progresses. But Young will only improve with more time to understand the new rules.
'Ice Trae' is 23-years-old, and before he averaged 25+ and 9+ assists per game last season, the last NBA point guard to accomplish that feat was Russell Westbrook in 2018 at that age of 30. Besides 'Brodie', the list includes James Harden, LeBron James, Michael Adams, Nate Archibald, Jerry West, and Oscar Robertson, according to Stat Muse.
On the eve of being drafted by the Dallas Mavericks and traded to the Atlanta Hawks, Young knew the NBA's playstyle and where it was going. New rules, funky defenses, it doesn't matter. All you can do with Young is pick your poison. Welcome to the future of the league.