Trae Young Talks Possible NBA Return, Nutmegs, and More
Like most NBA players, Trae Young hasn't been able to do as much basketball activity as he'd like to over the last nine weeks. Even with a hoop in his driveway, working out and getting shots up hasn't been the same with practice facilities closed and the NBA season on pause, so Young -- like the rest of his colleagues -- has had to adapt.
"[Basketball] is like a safe haven for us," Young told Adrian Wojnarowski and WNBA star Chiney Ogwumike on ESPN's One Team Speaker Series. "I'm just trying to take the proper precautions with everything going on. Trying to stay active."
Young ordered bikes soon after the NBA suspended its season and he moved back to Oklahoma with his family, and has been visiting tracks at local high schools early in the morning or late at night to get conditioning work in. Running for its own sake isn't quite the same as running up and down a basketball court in a competitive game, but Young has made do.
"I don't necessarily like going on a mile run, a two-mile run just for fun and just to stay in shape," he said. "This is something I've had to learn to get accustomed to and it's been very helpful."
The NBA is considering returning to play as soon as next month in a highly sanitized and monitored bubble location, with no fans in attendance and players getting frequently tested between games. If that scenario comes to pass, the league will reportedly have a three-week training camp for players to get back into game shape and find a basketball rhythm again. Young admits he isn't ready to play at a high level in an NBA game at the moment, but would be if given time to adequately prepare.
Right now, I'm gonna say I'm not necessarily prepared because I haven't run, I haven't played. I haven't touched the ball or been able to," Young said. "But one thing I'll say is I will be prepared. That's something that I know for a fact. If we do end up coming back, there's gonna be some time where we get kind of like a mini-training camp started where we can get back in shape, play, and just kind of get back into the game flow. So if I'm not prepared right now, I will be when it returns."
Without live sports going on, Young and Ogwumike spent the last five Sundays tuning into The Last Dance -- the 10-part documentary about Michael Jordan and the 1998 Chicago Bulls. Young wasn't alive for most of Jordan's career, so seeing the Hall-of-Famer on the court and behind the scenes was a new experience.
It's a crazy series," Young said. "Seeing how MJ was in the locker rooms, how he won his championships, how he took a break from the game, came back and won three more. For me, seeing that has been really inspiring and just motivates me. I want to win championships, I want to take a franchise to the next level. Just seeing the things that he did, the sacrifices he made to do it, it's been something that's been really inspiring and motivating for me."
The Hawks are a long way from competing for NBA titles, but they could realistically get into the playoff hunt next season behind their All-Star point guard's dynamic offensive creation, a young cast of wings and big men, and whoever they acquire with nearly $49 million in cap space this summer.
Young's rise has been the driving force behind Atlanta accelerating its rebuild. He raised his scoring average from 19 points per game as a rookie to nearly 30 last season while ranking second in the NBA in assists per game. He improved across the board, which he attributes to the doubt he has heard other people express throughout his career.
"I've always used negativity and things people have said about be as fuel," he said. "I try to turn negative energy into a positive, and hopefully someday those people that said all those negative things about me are ultimately a fan of mine and think differently."
In addition to his production itself, Young has also developed into one of the the NBA's most entertaining guards due to his imaginative passing and ball-handling and seemingly unlimited shooting range. As a smaller guard, Young has had to work to expand his range out to 35 feet and beyond, which he says started with him shooting close-range shots to develop the proper shot mechanics as a kid.
"I think when you're a kid, when you get the ball for the first time and you get in the gym, the first thing people want to do is shoot 3s," Young said. "I really focused on my mechanics, starting out close, getting the touch, rhythm good. And then as I got older and got stronger my range started moving farther back, but I also had the right mechanics."
But those mechanics didn't translate right away. Young struggled early on in his career, his ambition and audacity looking more like indiscretion and overzealousness. He air-balled his first shot in the 2018 NBA Summer League before shooting 29 percent from deep in his first 41 pro games.
"It just felt like the whole world is on my shoulders," Young told Wojnarowski. "It was tough for me, but ultimately I got through it. People had a lot to say about it, and for me, I use that as fuel."
Now one of the most recognizable stars in the NBA, Young has used his platform to help spread safety messages about COVID-19, donate to local communities in need, and, notably help promote the WNBA. Several NBA stars have become vocal supporters of Ogwumike and her WNBA colleagues in recent years, which has corresponded with a rise in popularity of the women's game.
"It's just a mutual respect thing. We understand how hard they work, we understand how much time they put in and the effort they put into their craft," Young said. As NBA players, we know we have that type of platform that if we attend those games, if we go out and support these women that put in the same type of effort, the same type of work that we do, the game will grow."
During their half-hour interview, Wojnarowski also asked Young about the possibility of the NBA adding a four-point line, which the point guard unequivocally supported.
"It would help me," Young laughed. "We would get a lot more four-point plays. And then if I get fouled on the four-point line it's an and-1, so we're gonna get five points per possession. That would help us for sure. I'm down to get a four-point line."
When asked what team outside of Atlanta he'd most like to play for, Young didn't take the bait, but rather reiterated his previously stated mission of helping lift the Hawks into title contention for years to come.
"For me, I'm trying my best to build the city of Atlanta and our team to a championship-level team," Young said. "I'm trying to win championships in Atlanta."