Atlanta Hawks star Trae Young sounds off on defense

Atlanta Hawks. (Photo by Alex Slitz/Getty Images)
Atlanta Hawks. (Photo by Alex Slitz/Getty Images) /

One of the longest-standing criticisms of Atlanta Hawks star point guard Trae Young has been his defense or lack thereof.

Young, who is listed at 6-foot-1 and 164 pounds is well aware of his physical limitations.

“Defense is all about energy,” Young said postgame via Jameelah Johnson’s ‘atlhawksfans’ channel on YouTube. “I’m obviously already at a disadvantage because my height playing in a tall man’s league. So I just got to use my quickness to get under people and just make people as uncomfortable as possible. And so, I mean I just got to continue to use my quickness and I’m going to do that.”

To his point, Young’s 115.1 defensive rating ranks higher this season (48th percentile) than any of his previous marks have in their respective seasons, per Cleaning The Glass. Some of that is variance in peer production but perhaps it does also highlight improved effort.

“Bringing [Dejounte Murray] in, it allows me to be a little bit more aggressive on defense,” Young said. “I’ve been trying to do that all year just for my teammates…I’m playing really hard on that end trying to give my teammates all I can on both ends. So, I’m going to continue to be there on the offensive end. My defense is what I’m going to be focused on, that’s for sure.”

Zooming out, the Hawks are 1.3 points per 100 possessions better defensively when Young has been on the floor this season.

Atlanta is “just” 1.0 points per 100 possessions worse with Young on and Murray off.

Atlanta Hawks head coach Quin Snyder sees growth from TraeYoung, dynamic with Murray

Young joked that “maybe that’s why my shots are short” but tired legs could certainly be a culprit as his shot just hasn’t been there this season – his 32.5% mark from beyond the arc is just 0.1% better than his career-worst set in his rookie season. His usage rate has dropped 1.5% while his makes from an assist with Murray’s arrival but his catch-and-shoot looks have only risen by 0.3 attempts per game as his pull-ups have fallen 1.7 per game.

“He was great,” Hawks head coach Quin Snyder said after the loss to the Miami Heat on March 4. “Our two guards, they just competed. I though, in the beginning of the 2Q, Trae defensively raised his level – he’s moving his feet, he’s talking.”

Snyder noted that Young was fully on-board with not being on the floor as the group who was one was making headway.

After the second loss to Miami (on March 6), Snyder again praised Young’s defensive growth.

“Those two guys continuing to learn to play off each other is important for our team,” Snyder said. “They’re both competitive and they’re both young. So, I think, these types of games – particularly, Miami’s physical. They work. They have that identity – and for our guys…to continue to develop that type of identity.

“There was a couple possessions in front of our bench in the second half (against Miami) where Trae was up on the ball, he blew up a handoff, he came back up, he fought over, got under – multiple-effort plays on defense. And that’s a standard he’s holding himself to. And, when you’re doing those things, and you’re playing a lot of minutes, and you’re asked to do so much offensively, it’s easy to kind of in the back of your mind say, ‘Oh, I’ll get it back.’ And he didn’t do that.”

Snyder lamented his team’s inability to overcome the mental hurdles of a back-to-back as the Heat did.

But his comments support Young’s assertion and the numbers.

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If Snyder is already getting through to Young in such a meaningful way – even if the results were already underway before his arrival – the hiring is a success. Openly discussing it is a good start to changing the narrative but he will have to keep it up for it to stick.