The NBA announced their All-Star reserves yesterday, rounding out the 24 total selections across the two conferences. The picks excluded many noteworthy players, such as Devin Booker, Domantas Sabonis, and Bam Adebayo. But no snub was worse than that of Trae Young, the Atlanta Hawks’ 3rd-year point guard.
After making his first career all-star game in 2020, Young had a strong case to make another one this time around. But he was oddly left off the East’s 12-man roster.
On top of their minimal roster turnover in the short offseason, Trae Young’s Hawks have dealt with a surplus of costly injuries this year. Those setbacks have resulted in a lackluster 14-18 record, causing some to blame Trae Young entirely.
But Young deserves very little criticism. His excellence has come despite his team’s disappointment. With numerous players in and out of the lineup, Young’s production has seemingly been the only constant for Atlanta. He’s keeping them afloat for playoff contention.
After all, wins are a team stat and shouldn’t be the main factor in determining which players are having the best individual season.
Young’s All-Star Case
As an individual, Young is continuing to cement his case as one of the league’s ten best offensive players. He’s part of a select group of players who supplement great scoring with great playmaking. Young currently averages 27.2 points and 9.5 assists on 60.1 true shooting percentage (3% above league average). No matter the year, those are undeniably all-star-caliber numbers.
Additionally, the box score numbers don’t quite portray Young’s immense offensive impact. Even when he’s not scoring or assisting teammates, opponents always feel Young’s presence.
The threat of his limitless range and sensational scoring forces defenses to account for him at all times. Defenders gravitate towards Young to the point where he demands a flurry of double teams, thus drawing attention away from teammates and creating countless open looks for them. It’s tough to quantify this elite offensive gravity with a stat, but the eye test confirms it. In fact, Young’s scoring gravity is only bested by the likes of Stephen Curry and Damian Lillard.
The advanced stats love Young as well. With Young on the court orchestrating the offense, the Hawks have an impressive offensive rating of 118.3 (4th in the league). But when Young goes to the bench, that number drops to just 106.4 (28th in the league). He ranks 5th in 538’s Offensive RAPTOR and 8th in ESPN’s Offensive Real Plus-Minus, both of which suggest the obvious: Trae Young is an exceptional offensive talent.
Furthermore, Young didn’t just deserve to make the all-star game as a reserve. He should’ve been in contention for a starting spot. While Bradley Beal was named a starter alongside Kyrie Irving and rightfully earned a spot on the roster, one could make the case that Young has been better than Beal this season. Beal scores more points, but Young’s more efficient and the far superior playmaker.
Defensively, Young remains a negative, as his small frame and poor physical tools hinder his ability on that end. However, voters ignored Young’s defense in 2020 and named him an all-star starter. And with him making improvements across most defensive metrics, it makes very little sense to snub Young for his defense after overlooking it last year.
Besides, Young’s weak defense shouldn’t overshadow his significant strengths. In the modern NBA, a guard’s offense is far more impactful than their defense. Young is proof of that.
Why was Young snubbed?
As deserving as Young was of an all-star spot, it’s not exactly surprising to see him left off. After being one of the NBA’s most popular players last season, Young became a far more controversial figure in 2021. Young placed 1st in 2020 fan voting among eastern conference guards but ranked just 6th in 2021 voting.
This drop in popularity likely stems from Young’s notorious and controversial knack for drawing fouls. Young shoots 10.2 free throws per game, good enough for third in the league. While this high free throw rate benefits Young and the Hawks as a whole, it’s drawn plenty of criticism.
Brooklyn Nets head coach and Young’s idol growing up, Steve Nash, chimed in on the style of play, saying, “that’s not basketball.”
And while few others have publicly spoken on Young’s play style, it’s reasonable to assume that other players share the same opinion as Nash. This is evident because Young accumulated just 20 all-star votes from fellow players, slotting him behind Kyle Lowry and Jrue Holiday.
Admittedly, excessive foul-drawing can be very annoying. But Young is merely using the rules to his advantage and helping his team win. Fans and players alike shouldn’t necessarily penalize him for being a crafty and intelligent scorer. If anything, NBA rules are to blame.
Despite the snub, Young still has plenty to be proud of so far this season. His absence from the all-star game shouldn’t negate that.
And either way, Young and the Hawks have their eyes set on the more important goal of contending for a playoff spot. If he keeps up his performance, that goal could very easily become a reality.