2018 Potential NBA Draft Bust: Trae Young

Synopsis: Oklahoma point guard Trae Young led the NCAA in both scoring (27.4 ppg) and assists (8.7 apg) for the 2017-18 college basketball season. By doing something that had never been done before, Young appropriately became a consensus 1st Team All-American. With those credentials, it’s hard to argue against Young’s selection as the 5th overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft. Still, I’m not convinced that his talents will transcend to the next level. Relative to all top 10 picks this year, Young has the highest probability of becoming a bust.

 2018 Potential NBA Draft Bust: Trae Young

As part of my 2018 Mock NBA Draft, I predicted that Michael Porter Jr. would go with the 5th overall pick. I clearly underestimated the concerns teams had regarding Porter’s health, because the preseason favorite as the #1 overall pick fell all the way to 14th. I thought his upside was worth a high pick, but NBA teams clearly got cold feet when he canceled a workout for health reasons only days before the draft. 

Prior to the draft, the Hawks indicated that they were interested in taking Luka Doncic with the 3rd overall pick. Apparently, they leaked the information hoping to entice the Mavericks to trade up for the pick given that Dallas openly coveted the international phenom. It worked because the Hawks got Trae Young (their proclaimed top choice in the draft) in the #5 spot as well as the Mavericks’ 2019 first round pick. Unlike Atlanta’s front office, I question Young’s NBA prospects.

When originally predicting that Young would go to Chicago with the 7th overall pick, I wrote the following.

Trae Young has drawn comparisons to 2009 #7 overall pick Steph Curry so it seems serendipitous that the Bulls take Young with their pick. I’ll save my assessment of Young for another post, but it’s highly unlikely that Young will be worthy of that comparison. Remember Jimmer?

As another example of good things come to those who wait, this post includes the promised assessment of the 2018 #5 overall pick. 

Player Level  PPG   RPG   APG   BPG   SPG  Excess Value
Trae Young College (2017-18) 27.4 3.9 8.7 0.3 1.7  
Mike Bibby NBA Career 14.7 3.1 5.5 0.1 1.2 1.3x

Note: “Excess Value” indicates how much more productive the comparable player was relative to production from an average draft pick. In this case, Mike Bibby was 1.3x as productive as the average #5 overall pick. 

The stats in the tables reflect the per game averages for Mike Bibby throughout his 12-year NBA career. Of note, they do not reflect his peak value (20 ppg / 8 apg) or his clutch playoff performances. They clearly don’t reflect the numbers he might have put up if he cared more about physical conditioning back then.

At least no one could accuse Bibby of using PEDs while playing in the NBA. He might have more difficulty defending that claim today.

Before sharing my thoughts about Young’s prospects, I offer the commentary of ESPN analysts Jay Bilas and Chauncey Billups. On draft night, Bilas made the following observations.

  • Prolific scorer w/ logo range (i.e. well beyond the 3-pt line)
  • Will shoot from 30′.
  • Great vision and a genius reader of pick & roll.
  • Excellent handler and creator.
  • Concern: “He just lacks size and he’s not good defender.”

Uh oh. In my mind, that concern offsets all of the previously mentioned strengths.


As could be expected, Billups compared Trae Young to Steph Curry. The ESPN analyst also offered the following assessment of the former Sooner.

  • Able to change speed with tempo.
  • Can make floaters as well as 3-point shots from anywhere on the floor.
  • Best at passing with left hand.

ESPN NBA Draft host Rece Davis had a different perspective. He echoed the same concern I had about Young’s size and defensive skills. Davis also remarked that Young might slip in the draft because of these deficiencies. I found myself agreeing with Davis more so than with the other two draft analysts.

Young finished the 2017-18 college season leading the NCAA in both scoring (27.4 ppg) and assists (8.7 apg). He became a consensus 1st Team All-American for doing something that had never been done in history. While I recognize Young’s special achievement, I don’t think he’ll experience similar success in the NBA.

I first started to pay attention to Young in mid-January after he led Oklahoma to a 14-2 record and a #4 national ranking. He seemed poised to earn college player-of-the-year honors based on averaging 30 points and 10 assists per game. Young maintained his individual numbers for the next two weeks (including 2 more 40-pt games), but the team faltered with a 2-3 record. As indicated by the following table, both he and the team fell off significantly from there.    

    Per Game Averages  
Games Record Points Assists Turnovers 3pt %
1-21 16-5 30.3 9.5 5.3 40.9%
22-32 2-9 21.8 7.2 5.1 25.9%

Whereas Young started the year as a worthy top 10 overall pick, he finished it as a mid-to-late first rounder. His numbers were respectable, but certainly not worthy of a top pick. I highlighted the three numbers which gave me the greatest concern. To start, he only shot 26% from beyond the arc in the last third of the season. He also averaged more than five turnovers per game throughout the season. His assist/turnover ratio of 1.8x at the start the season fell to 1.4x by the end of the year. The quality of NBA versus college defenders will only expose these deficiencies (i.e. poor shooting and controlling the ball).

In my mock draft, I made a comparison between Trae Young and Jimmer Fredette. Of note, both players seemed to be able to shoot from well beyond the NBA 3-pt line while still in college. Young certainly has shown another dimension as a passer, but I don’t think he can overcome his lack of size and defensive skills. Overall, I predict he has a 50% chance of becoming a bust (i.e. in the bottom quartile of #5 overall picks) and a 20% chance of becoming a Top 10 bust candidate (i.e. in the bottom 10% of #5 overall picks).

2018 Potential NBA Draft Bust: Trae Young
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