The enormity and anticipation of Trae Young’s professional basketball debut ate into his game-day routine.
Atlanta’s prized first-round draft pick couldn’t get his usual pregame nap in. He couldn’t eat due to a healthy case of the nerves. And when a basketball player has his rhythm diverted, on or off the floor, negative results normally occur.
This isn’t an excuse for Young’s 4-of-20 shooting performance in Monday’s Utah Jazz summer league debut. Rather, it’s a look into a day in the basketball life of a franchise savior. When the Hawks acquired Young, the quicksilver point guard from Oklahoma, on draft night, miracles were expected instantly.
But they almost never happen instantly at the NBA level. Not even in summer league.
“I’m not worried, because it’s just one game,” Young said. “I missed a lot of the shots that I normally make. I knew there was a possibility of this, so it doesn’t make me too worried.”
Like for most NBA rookies — even the prized ones like Young — shooting and finishing in the paint proved to be a struggle. Young, renowned for his shooting as a freshman at Oklahoma, missed all but one of his 11 3-point attempts. He missed shots at the rim that normally fall. He found out the rude way making shots in the paint at the pro level is quite different from doing so in college.
Part of his problem against the Memphis Grizzlies, in a game the Hawks lost 103-88 at Vivint Smart Home Arena, is Young was matched up against fellow rookie Jevon Carter, a second-round pick out of West Virginia.
Last season, Carter was widely regarded as the best perimeter defender in college basketball. And with West Virginia and Oklahoma being in the same Big 12 Conference and having played against each other multiple times, Carter had familiarity against Young.
On Monday, Carter picked up where he left the rivalry, dogging Young defensively up and down the floor. He never let Young pick up a head of steam to the basket. Young struggled to beat Carter off the dribble, and he struggled to gain separation in the pick-and-roll.
“It was good to get out there and get a feel for how fast the game is going to go,” Young said. “It was the first time playing in a while, so it will definitely better as the summer league goes on. I definitely felt better in the second half.”
It wasn’t all bad for Young, however. He picked up three assists, but could’ve had more had his teammates made a few more shots. There were times he got into the lane, and found open teammates on the perimeter. He was good defensively, competitive on the ball and attentive off the ball. And it was easy to see the talent and ability when he was able to get into the open floor.
Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce lauded Young’s aggression. In a situation such as Monday, coaches look at their guy to see if there’s a lack of confidence. That wasn’t the case with Young, who stayed in attack mode for much of the game. He kept putting pressure on the rim, he took jumpers when appropriate and eventually he saw results.
“I was happy that he took 20 shots,” Pierce said. “You know that he has no trouble shooting the three. I had to talk him out of taking one. He was about to shoot one and I told him to attack.”
If Young had his struggles, Jaren Jackson Jr. was sublime. Memphis made him the No. 4 pick largely based on his high upside. But Jackson scored 29 points in his professional debut, and hit eight 3-pointers. Jackson and Young headline a number of first rounders playing in Utah’s summer league, including Jazz guard Grayson Allen, Memphis guard Lonnie Walker IV and Atlanta center Omari Spellman.
Five first rounders to watch<br>Trae Young, point guard, Atlanta Hawks • Has drawn comparisons to Stephen Curry. Should be fun to watch as the week progresses.<br>Omari Spellman, center, Atlanta Hawks • A sweet-shooting big man with athleticism.<br>Grayson Allen, shooting guard, Utah Jazz • Flashed a nice all-around game in his debut.<br>Jaren Jackson Jr., power forward, Memphis Grizzlies • Could one day be one of the better players in the league.<br>Jevon Carter, point guard, West Virginia<br>He showed well against Young on Monday.