In a recent appearance on Wednesday’s episode of Shaquille O’Neal’s podcast, The Big Podcast with Shaq, Trae Young made some pretty significant assertions. When asked how long it will take him to surpass Steph Curry as the best shooter in the NBA, Young hesitated but eventually answered “a year”.
It was obvious that Trae was reluctant to answer the question, probably knowing what he was getting himself into. Shaq continuously egged him on, and after enough harassment, Trae finally played along and took the bait.
But even though Trae’s statement should be taken mildly given the situation, there is no denial in the comparisons Young attracts with Curry, given their similar playstyles. And with this interview, another opportunity is given to look at how close Trae is to catching up with Steph.
In only his second season playing in the NBA, Trae Young has already astonished fans around the world. He is averaging 29.6 points and 9 assists per game, being the 4th highest scorer and 2nd best playmaker in the league this season.
Most young players have one, maybe two offensive specialties in their early raw years – whether it’s shooting, finishing, passing, etc. But Young’s ability to shoot from deep, dribble penetrate, finish inside and make plays at the same time is uncanny. He has one of the most all-around offensive play styles in the league, and given he’s only 21 years old, he will likely develop into a unique superstar in the future.
However, although we’ve all seen highlights of Trae pulling it from The Hawks’ logo, there are still aspects of his game that hold him back from calling himself number 1.
Steph Curry isn’t just regarded as a great shooter because of the distance of his shots. For the number of difficult shots Steph takes every game, his efficiency is phenomenal. In his last 5 seasons (excluding this year), he has taken 10.2 threes a game, most being contested and well behind the arc. And out of those shots, he has made 43.4% of them, which is just remarkable.
On top of this, Steph’s shots come from a variety of circumstances. Some come on the ball from isolation, dribble penetration, mismatches, or shot-creating opportunities. Others come off the ball from screen-running, fake-outs, and catch-and-shoot situations. Either way, Steph has multiple methods to put the ball in the basket – it’s just a matter of playing based on what the defense gives him.
Trae, on the other hand, lacks in both of these offensive fields. While Steph has continuously been a top leader in three-point field goal percentage, Young shoots a mere 34.4% from beyond the arc in his career, making just 2.6 of his 7.4 threes taken per game.
And while Trae is admirable for hitting shots off the dribble, he is still mediocre at moving off the ball. Nearly all of his production comes when the ball is in his hands, but when defenses force him to pass out, he inclines to just stand around until he gets the ball again.
But it’s important to remember – while it’s obvious that Curry still has the edge over Young for now, both players work in contrasting situations. With the amount of talent the Warriors have had over the years, Curry could be more successful given the bare amount of defenders the opponent can offer to guard everyone. This has allowed a more fluid offense where he can take well-advised shots, and he can rely on his many teammates to bail him out in certain situations.
Contrarily, Trae Young is the only offensive tool The Hawks can have confidence in. Coach Lloyd Pierce knows that every night, Young will perform and produce for the team. Knowing this, opposing teams can shape their defensive plan around limiting his production, such as pressing him up the court, doubling him off a screen or trapping him in the corner. In fact, Trae faced the 5th most double teams in the entire league last year, outside of superstars like Harden and Lillard. But despite these defensive strategies, Trae has consistently been able to make plays, get to his spots, and create for others.
Keep in mind that while it took several years for Curry to be renowned as a superior shooter, the fact that Trae is already drawing debates in his sophomore year shows how good he can be. Both shooting and off-ball movement are facets that will improve for Young over time. He has a great work ethic, he has many years to grow, and given how much he already knows about the game, it shouldn’t be long before he becomes a superstar. And with how the league is constantly remodeling itself around fast, offensive play, it’s not hard to believe Trae can one day indeed catch up to Steph in the record books (just not in a year).