Since he entered the league, the former Oklahoma Sooner’s outsized personality has quickly made him easy to hate for opposing fanbases, which in turn rallied Atlanta Hawks fans to ferociously defend their team’s best player this century despite his well-documented limitations.
Earlier this week, recently crowned NBA champion Michael Porter Jr., who played AAU basketball with Young when they were in high school, addressed some of the discourse around his former teammate in an interview with reporter Taylor Rooks.
“He’s just going to be himself unapologetically,” said Porter Jr. “…I’m putting Trae up there with pretty much anyone. He has a crazy IQ, I think he’s one of the best passers, he can shoot from deep, and I played with him, so I know how good he is.”
So how did Trae Young get to this point of being either irrationally hated or perhaps slightly overhyped depending on who you ask?
It’s been a long journey to this point for Atlanta Hawks star Trae Young
Young’s name first entered the national consciousness when he was an Oklahoma Sooner, where his logo three-pointers and unabashed personality quickly garnered comparisons to NBA superstar Steph Curry.
In his lone season at Oklahoma, Young become the first college player in history to lead the nation in both points and assists, but this still didn’t quiet doubts about his size and defensive weaknesses at the NBA level.
Young’s entrance into the league was embroiled in debate as he was one-half of the controversial trade that sent Luka Doncic to Dallas in exchange for Atlanta’s right to draft him.
After a rough start to his rookie year, Young blossomed after the 2019 all-star break and continued on a steady trajectory of improvement over the next two years, culminating in what was objectively one of the most dominant single-player postseason runs of the last few seasons when he took a severely flawed 2021 Atlanta Hawks squad to within two games of the Finals.
Young made enemies along the way, most notably with the nice folks in New York City, who continue to downplay his achievements and can still be heard chanting his name in a not-so-friendly manner at concerts and other non-basketball-related events to this day.
So it’s easy to understand why Young is such a polarizing player, especially considering his limitations, most notably on the defensive end of the court, where he has made noticeable efforts to improve but is still the obvious weak link for opposing offenses to exploit.
Still, Young seems to have garnered an unfair reputation as some sort of stat-padding shot-chucker whose style of play doesn’t lead to success, which makes it puzzling when we see names like Ja Morant, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and even more disrespectful comparisons like Tyrese Haliburton thrown ahead of him on certain lists when none of those players have even sniffed the level of playoff success Young has reached.
(*Whispers* Young has also made it closer to the Finals than Damian Lillard and Luka Doncic, but that’s another story for another day.)
The reality of the situation is this: Young is already one of the ten best passers to ever pick up a basketball. His shot selection can leave a lot to be desired at times, but he has one of the league’s most reliable offensive weapons in his arsenal in the form of his lethal tear-drop floater.
It was solely because of Young’s offensive brilliance that John Collins, a severely limited roll-man who Atlanta recently traded for a cup of wind and a basket of air, got paid an astonishing $100 million, due to how good Young was able to make him look.
The reason Young draws such strong reactions is most likely primarily due to his brazen personality and propensity to antagonize opposing fanbases. And when he does have down moments, including most notably 2022’s embarrassing playoff performance against Miami, they are really, really down.
Still, Porter Jr. isn’t just giving Young kudos because they’re friends.
He’s accurately assessing Young’s place as one of the most innovative offensive masterminds in modern NBA history who is good enough, with the right pieces around him, to be a number one option on a championship team.