After missing just over a week in health and safety protocols, Trae Young has been back for four games. The Hawks have lost three of them. Don’t put the blame on Young, who is averaging 36.5 points and 11.2 assists over that span.
Young’s latest gem came on Monday, when he hung a career-high 56 points on the Blazers. Again, the Hawks lost, done in by their defense. Yes, Atlanta was without John Collins and Cam Reddish, and DeAndre Hunter has been out since mid-November, but this has been a season-long theme.
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Atlanta, which now owns the fourth-worst record in the East at 16-20 and wouldn’t even make the play-in round if it started today, entered Monday night with the 25th-ranked offense, per Cleaning the Glass.
Young is central to the defensive issues, of course. Atlanta ranks in the 13th defensive percentile when he’s on the floor, per Cleaning the Glass. But he’s certainly doing more than his part on the offensive end, where the Hawks are operating at roughly 119 points per 100 possessions with Young on the floor, which would rank No. 1 in the league, per CTG.
Young is shooting a career-high 37 percent from 3, where he went 7 for 12 on Monday. His shot selection is much improved. He’s become lethal in the midrange. He might be the best passer in the league and can get anywhere he wants to get with the ball. He’s a brilliant point guard.
All told, Young went 17 for 26 against the Blazers, and he’s starting to get his feel back for drawing fouls after struggling with the rule adjustments to start the season, which no longer reward players like Young for non-basketball moves/flailing shot attempts intended solely to draw bogus contact.
For the month of December, Young got to the line 8.1 times per game, in line with last season’s frequency. He was 15 for 15 from the line on Monday, when he joined some pretty exclusive 55-point/10-assist company.
Dating back to Nov. 22, Young has now scored at least 25 points in 16 consecutive games. That is the longest such streak in the NBA this season and ties Dominique Wilkins’ franchise record.
Think about that. We’re not talking about a streak of double-digit scoring. We’re talking about 25 points. Sixteen straight games. The Hawks have been smoked by injuries/illness this season, but hopefully that can change. Get Collins and Hunter back, get Onyeka Okongwu, who has played just three games this season, up to speed, and maybe the Hawks can reestablish some of the defensive identity that carried them into the Eastern Conference finals last season.
It also might be time to start thinking about consolidating some of their wing talent in a trade for a major impact player. But that’s another story for another day.