Trae Young shaking off early Summer League demons to step into franchise star role

<a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nba/teams/atl" data-ylk="slk:Atlanta Hawks">Atlanta Hawks</a> rookie <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nba/players/6016/" data-ylk="slk:Trae Young">Trae Young</a> had a disastrous showing at Utah Summer League, but he’s performed better in the Las Vegas Summer League. (Getty)
Atlanta Hawks rookie Trae Young had a disastrous showing at Utah Summer League, but he’s performed better in the Las Vegas Summer League. (Getty)

LAS VEGAS — On his way here from Salt Lake City, Trae Young watched the footage from his early performances as an NBA player in the Utah Summer League and remembered the frustration. He captured the basketball world at the University of Oklahoma with his long-range shooting and passing, garnered comparisons to two-time NBA MVP Stephen Curry, and went No. 5 overall to the Atlanta Hawks.

So as Young rewatched tape of his airballed jumpers in Utah Summer League, he didn’t let the lowlights linger for too long in his mind.

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“It’s tough, it’s tough, an airball is one of the worst feelings for me,” Young told Yahoo Sports. “It stays with me for 2.2 seconds … and then you have to move on. I’m at the point where it’s a next-shot mentality. I’m going to miss shots. I learn to accept that. Everybody expects me to go 30-for-30 every night, but that’s realistically not going to happen.”

Those airballs have so far shaped Young as much as the voices in his ears from his father Ray, his family and his inner circle. For those 2.2 seconds, Young says, he reaches his lowest moment on the court — and then it’s onto the next one. These Hawks have been onto the next season since October, jockeying for draft lottery positioning and the chance to draft a player like Young. It’s a point guard’s league, and Atlanta entrusted Young over Jaren Jackson Jr., Luka Doncic, Mo Bamba and Wendell Carter Jr.

Young has entered the NBA at its peak in point-guard play, and some of his current idols in the Bay (Curry) and Oklahoma City (Russell Westbrook) await this upcoming NBA season. The ball will be in his hands early and often, the charge of being a transcendent player at the one already on his shoulders as the Hawks’ young core of John Collins, Taurean Prince and Omari Spellman develops around him. If the first two weeks of his pro career are any indication, Young has been cultivated for the moment and prepared to live with the moments, high and low.

The Hawks are coming off a 24-58 season, and wins are not going to be much easier next season, even with LeBron James gone from the Eastern Conference. As Young takes the reigns as the Hawks’ point guard of the future, Dennis Schroder’s future will come into question more and more as the offseason continues. There has been pressure for the Hawks’ management to ensure value arrives in a Schroder trade, and the franchise simply won’t trade below his value. Atlanta lost dependable shooter Marco Belinelli via contract buyout during the season without receiving a return before the trade deadline. Center Dewayne Dedmon has also emerged as a veteran player who could attract interested suitors.

Atlanta Hawks head coach Lloyd Pierce has a young core to develop, including first-round draft picks Kevin Huerter, Trae Young and Omari Spellman. (AP)
Atlanta Hawks head coach Lloyd Pierce has a young core to develop, including first-round draft picks Kevin Huerter, Trae Young and Omari Spellman. (AP)

Young understands the most challenging matchups await him across the league. “I’ll have my work cut out for me, because if I don’t bring it … ” Young trailed off, knowing all eyes are on him.

After missing 21 of 24 3-pointers in three Utah Summer League games and averaging 12.6 points, Young responded in Las Vegas. He averaged 17 points, 6.8 assists and shot 38.7 percent from 3-point land (12-of-31) in four Las Vegas Summer League games. Those same airballs in Utah turned into the majestic, high-arching makes from long-range in his final two Summer League games of scoring 24 and 23 points, and as coach Lloyd Pierce has instilled in him: “Keep shooting.”

This is the beauty of Young, 19: The quick turnover of his memory, blended with his own passing skills. Young showcased his range for the first time in an NBA uniform in Las Vegas, and then there were the drives down the lanes for passes to his teammates for easy dunks — the two-on-one fast-breaks drawing the defender on his drive, only to sweep the ball across his body for an assist. He has nurtured his skills and shooting in the Curry era, gained around 12 pounds of muscle during the pre-draft process while working with strength and conditioning trainer Travelle Gaines, and yet the most revered player in Young’s mind is another back-to-back MVP.

“I try to be Steve Nash more than Steph,” Young told Yahoo Sports. “I do blend Nash and Steph a lot, but my favorite player growing up was Steve Nash. I get a lot of Steph comparisons, and I agree I do have a few attributes that are similar to Steph. But Steve Nash is a Hall of Famer, though, and Steph will be one day, too. I know I always have to show and prove my passing ability. I have to get better on that aspect, and I definitely work on that a lot.

“I shoot my shots, and sometimes they’re going to go in, sometimes they’re not. I live with that. Everyone on the outside might come down on me, but I put in the reps so I’m confident every time I shoot.

“This Summer League has been a good test for me to stay focused, a good test to make sure that I keep a good mindset. It’s a test and I have to continue to handle it well. I want to be the face of us continuing to grow as a team and rise as a franchise.”

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