Scout on how Knicks should defend Hawks' Trae Young in first round of 2021 NBA playoffs

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
·4 min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
Trae Young Treated
Trae Young Treated

How do you slow down Atlanta’s Trae Young?

It’s a simple question with a complex answer.

To gain some insight into what the Knicks could try against Young and the Hawks during their first-round series, we spoke to a scout from an opposing team.

“I WOULD THINK ABOUT PLAYING HIM STRAIGHT UP”

One option for the Knicks? Send an extra defender at Young. But that approach comes with significant risk.

“It’s going to be hard to send two (defenders at Young) because who do you come off of? If they have (Bogdan) Bogdanovic and (Kevin) Huerter on the floor, you have two shooters that he can throw the ball to," the scout said. "And (John) Collins can hit the three a little bit. In pick and roll situations, if you try to send an extra guy at him, he’s really good with the ball.

“But again, you’re not coming off of (Bogdanovic). Huerter, you can cheat a little bit but not much. So who are you coming off of? (Clint) Capela?

“I would think about playing (Young) straight up. Whoever guards him, he’s going to shoot. I would try to influence him to take more of those deep threes. Because if he does that, then he’s not getting into the lane and creating shots, getting those lobs to Capela, or getting to the line.”

Young has hit 36 percent of his attempts from 25 feet and beyond this season, as Sports Illustrated’s Chris Herring notes. That’s the second-best percentage in the league. So there is a risk to letting Young shoot freely from that range.

But it seems better than the alternative.

Young has one of the highest free-throw rates in the NBA (free throw rate is determined by how many free throws you take per field goal attempt). He led the NBA in free-throws made and was No. 3 in free throws attempted.

Young is also among the best at setting his teammates up for clean looks.

Since Nate McMillan took over in early March, Danilo Gallinari (40.5 percent), Bogdanovic (43.2 percent) and Collins (38.5 percent) are all shooting well from beyond the arc off Young’s passes, per NBA.com.

The Knicks went 3-0 against Atlanta in the regular season but only one of those wins came against a McMillan-coached team. And the Hawks had a nine-point lead with under two minutes to go in the third quarter of that game. Young was forced to exit with an ankle injury and the Knicks won in overtime.

THINK ABOUT PUTTING RJ BARRETT ON YOUNG FOR STRETCHES

Some observers, understandably, believe Tom Thibodeau should change his point guard rotation in the playoffs. Knicks starter Elfrid Payton is entering the postseason amid a tough stretch.

He averaged 17 minutes per game (six points on 44 percent shooting) in the final 20 games of the regular season. The Knicks were outscored by 41 points with Payton on the floor in that span, per NBA.com. They outscored opponents by 165 points when Payton isn’t on the court in that stretch.

Per NBA.com tracking data, Young had success against Payton in the regular season according to Forbes’ Tommy Beer. So Thibodeau could start Derrick Rose or put Frank Ntilikina on Young.

But the Knicks went 16-4 over the 20 games referenced above. And they won 41 games this season. So the scout we spoke to doesn’t agree with the idea of making a lineup change going into the series.

“I don’t think I would change what Thibs is doing. I’m not going to question the formula. … I think he’ll feel the game and whatever they do, (the Hawks) are going to put (Young’s defender) in pick and roll. Payton, I wish he was a better offensive player, but I don’t think he’s a terrible defender. He’s not a great defender but I think he’s OK. I would stick Payton on him. Maybe as a different look, I would try Barrett on him if I could.

“(Bogdanovic and Huerter) are stationary shooters. ... I would think about playing (Payton and Reggie Bullock) on Bogdanovic and Huerter and I would try Barrett on Trae. Barrett has some size, length, I think he may be able to fluster him a little bit.

“The problem is, you don’t want to get caught up (in a bad matchup defending the pick and roll). You know they’re going to run those pick and rolls for Trae. I guess the question is, ‘Do you just show and get back? Do you try to get the ball out of his hands? Do you just try to get over the top and drop the center?”

Every Hawks opponent tries to answer these questions. The Knicks will have to do the same.

Thibodeau’s club has had one of the best defenses in the NBA all season long. If they can figure out how to slow Young down, it will increase their chances of getting past Atlanta and into the second round.