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Will Thaddeus Young help San Antonio's youth movement as a player, as a trade piece, or both? | Preseason Profile

Young could be one of the best players to pair with the young core of players developing in San Antonio, but could he be more valuable in a trade with a contender?

SAN ANTONIO — Thaddeus Young is the best player that the Chicago Bulls sent to San Antonio to acquire DeMar DeRozan, and since then the question of whether or not we’ll see him in Silver & Black has loomed over the remainder of the Spurs’ offseason.

Much like Al-Farouq Aminu, Young is on an expiring contract that makes him an appealing trade asset. Unlike Aminu, Young clearly still has consistent production left in the tank. 

The 33-year-old power forward has averaged double-digit scoring in each of the last 13 seasons, and he brings a level of physicality and basketball IQ that makes him a stout defender and productive rebounder.

His statistical accomplishments made him part of one of the most cherry-picked sports graphics of all time along with Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, and LeBron James. Aside from the silliness of the specific numbers, that graphic illustrates the point that he can do a number of important basketball things at a high level.

At 6’8” and 235 pounds of muscle, he can abuse mismatches in the post using strength, fancy footwork, and soft touch on his lefty hook shot. Over the course of his career he’s hit 33% from deep and certainly has the potential to space the floor in the corner, but it’s unclear which version of Young the shooter will play next year.

Young shot over 35% on 3.5 attempts from deep per game in the 2019-20 season, and he got those shots in a variety of ways. He showed an ability to pick and pop at the top of the arc, pick and roll wide to a vacant corner, and operate as a trailer. All of these actions generated great quality catch-and-shoot looks, but he may be one of the only lefties in the NBA whose shooting mechanics leave a lot to be desired.

He dips the ball on the catch, has a slow two-motion shot with a bit of a hitch, and his shooting arm is often off-center. That segmentation makes his shot slower and less fluid, and the unnecessary motion with the ball causes problems. His lower body shot prep isn’t particularly consistent, and he can be a bit off balance in situations where leaning gives him no advantage. All of that spells inconsistency and bad misses in a variety of directions.

After a string of four years where he shot 34% from deep on multiple attempts per game, he hit under 27% on just 0.7 attempts per game in his final year in Chicago. He was asked to space the floor and shoot less, and that probably threw him out of rhythm with his wonky shot. He did make a career-high 56% of his field goals, perhaps because he focused a bit more on shots closer to the basket.

Something Young did last year better than he’d done in his entire NBA career up to that point was pass the ball. He averaged 4.3 assists per game, and that centered around his ability to screen, roll to the open space as quickly or slowly as the situation demanded, and find open teammates as the defense collapsed around him. Think about when Steph Curry gets doubled in pick and roll and Draymond Green slips to the free throw line, creating a 4-on-3 for the offense. 

Young was also effective standing still with the ball at the elbow, setting up dribble handoffs and picking out cutters. Even though he shot poorly from deep and doesn’t have an impressive handle, he made plays for his teammates. You can read more on this and check out what it looks like on film in this deep dive by Mark Schindler.

Schindler has been covering the Indiana Pacers, so he’s quite familiar with both Young and Doug McDermott. He invited me on the Premium Hoops podcast to talk about this Spurs team in depth, and I picked his brain about those two role players, who he called “absolutely perfect for trying to bring along young guys and figure out what you have with them.”

“They have on-ball creation, but it’s just finding ways to make it work,” Schindler said of this Spurs team. “Adding somebody who’s a dynamic playmaker and screener in Thad, that just opens up things in a way that I think the team really didn’t have last year. That, I think, will help the young guys in growing.”

There’s an argument to be made that Young is one of the best players currently on the Spurs’ roster. He’s definitely a solid all-around veteran contributor who continues to evolve his game. One thing that can’t be debated is that he is the oldest player on the roster. He’s a great locker room guy and can help the kids in San Antonio on and off the court, but will he be around to do that?. 

Unlike the players who San Antonio signed in free agency, there was no announcement welcoming Young to the team. There’s been significant speculation that Young could be moved to a contender before the season begins, and he’s one of the better players available on the trading block around the league.

Any above-average team that needs frontcourt depth should be working the phones, and Spurs GM Brian Wright should be looking for the best possible offer.

“I don’t think that there is a team in the NBA that shouldn’t trade for Thad Young,” Schindler said. “He can come off the bench or start, he really doesn’t need the ball, and he’s a great locker room guy. There’s very little to dislike about Thad Young.”

The Phoenix Suns have been mentioned as a potential landing spot, and the trade that makes the most sense for all parties involved would send Young to a Suns team that just made the Finals while the rebuilding Spurs would get an injured Dario Saric and either draft compensation or second-year big man Jalen Smith.

The Atlanta Hawks may be looking to stay competitive and trade for some cap flexibility after signing John Collins to a big deal. Atlanta was reportedly shopping Cam Reddish, and a player like Danilo Gallinari may become expendable.  

The Boston Celtics could absorb Young into their trade exception and send a pick San Antonio’s way, though it’s unclear if they’d be willing to do that for a guy who would only be there one year.

It doesn’t seem likely that Philadelphia 76ers GM Daryl Morey would accept an offer for Ben Simmons that includes Young and/or Aminu, but it also doesn’t seem likely that Simmons and the team will be making up any time soon. That situation appears to be a standoff in which nobody has leverage, and as such that asking price may continue to fall. It almost certainly won’t plummet to the point where Philly would accept a low-ball offer from San Antonio, however. 

“I personally am in the camp that I don’t want to see the Spurs trade Thad Young, at least not before opening night,” Schindler said. “I want to see what this group looks like with Thad on the team moving forward right now.”

If San Antonio goes that route, they’d get solid production out of Young and still be able to trade him before the deadline. The drawback is that they’d still need to part ways with two players before the start of the season.

If Young plays, however, he could potentially showcase his value and maybe even increase his value by knocking down corner threes at a decent clip in the first half of the season.


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