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Jan 06 2014

Thaddeus Young, And The Benefits of Perimeter Shooting

What’s gotten into Thaddeus Young?

That’s a question that the Sixers – and teams around the league – would like answered. Since Young’s reported trade request in mid-December, he’s been absolutely sensational for Philadelphia. Saturday’s win against Portland was the sixth time in seven contests that he scored 25+ points from the field, during which the team has gone 5-2.

At the center of Thad’s offensive outburst is a common theme: the “Doug Collins held him back” angle. This has been overused at times, but in Thad’s case it’s worth exploring. After attempting 138 threes in the season preceding Collins’ arrival, Young shot just 34 of them during Collins’ three-year tenure, total. How does that happen in the midst of the league’s emphasis on 3-point shots?

Seriously, look at last year’s leaders in 3-point percentage:

RK TEAM PTS FGM FGA FG% 3PM 3PA 3P% FTM FTA FT% PPS AFG%
1 Golden State 101.2 38.2 83.4 .458 8.0 19.9 .403 16.8 21.3 .790 1.21 .506
2 Miami 102.9 38.4 77.4 .496 8.7 22.1 .396 17.4 23.0 .754 1.33 .552
3 Oklahoma City 105.7 38.1 79.3 .481 7.3 19.4 .377 22.2 26.8 .828 1.33 .527
4 San Antonio 103.0 39.1 81.4 .481 8.1 21.5 .376 16.6 21.0 .791 1.27 .531
 5 New York 100.0 36.5 81.6 .448 10.9 28.9 .376 16.0 21.1 .759 1.23 .515

Included in that group: the two NBA Finals participants, two of the West’s best young teams, and a Knicks team that was eventually taken down due to defensive issues. A pretty enviable quintet, all things considered.

With a new coach comes new philosophy, Young is attempting more shots from deep than ever before, shooting 40.8 percent from downtown to boot. Beyond the basic math implications – three is still greater than two, guys – having Young attacking both inside and out has a huge effect on the Sixers offense.

Take a look at this play against the Phoenix Suns, just before Young makes a corner three:

With all five Sixers stationed around the perimeter, the only Suns player even close to protecting the rim is Miles Plumlee, who is way up at the free-throw line. That’s a major boon for the Sixers on any given possession. When your choices are to drive to a rim supplied with light protection, or take a shot that holds 150 percent value, your offense is going to be successful.

Early in the season, Thad saw little resistance while letting it go from downtown, as teams saw him as enough of a non-shooter to let him be on the perimeter. The Magic might as well have constructed a neon sign that read “PLEASE SHOOT” on this play.

He’s becoming increasingly feared, however, which is making him a much harder player defend when he drives to the basket. That’s clear in the numbers — per MySynergySports.com, Young has gone from 86th among roll men to the seventh best roll man in the league, a boost of almost 0.3 points per possession. The effect of the shot on his production is as obvious on film as it is in the numbers.

Early in the second half against Portland, Young sets a pick for Michael Carter-Williams and proceeds to flare to the perimeter, where he has a nice look at a three. Nicolas Batum, who sees Thad eye the basket and feign the start of his shooting motion, lunges out at his man accordingly.

The reaction is instantaneous:

Two dribbles later, Thad has blown by his man and has a high-percentage look at the basket. Even if he doesn’t score, there’s a high likelihood of a foul or a follow-up. This is a shot Brett Brown will take every time.

Prior to the season starting, Brown and Sam Hinkie both went out of their way to shower praise on Young, despite his reputation as more of a grinder than a centerpiece. Even one of Marc Zumoff’s favorite phrases linked to Young, “turning garbage into gold,” is an indication that he creates offense out of plays that weren’t designed for him. That’s a credit to Young — it speaks to his ability to read and react to the game, even when he’s not necessarily a primary part in a set.

This series of events has presented a serious issue for the Sixers’ long-term plans. Despite Hinkie’s best efforts to strip down the team in order to obtain a higher draft pick, the fully healthy outfit has basically been a .500 club, which has many people insisting on trades to be made ASAP.

Trading Young for the sake of a trade might be unwise; what he’s accomplished so far this season is pretty rare. Here’s the full list of players since 2008 that have shot at least 40 percent from three and 50 percent from the field while averaging 18 points per game:

  • LeBron James
  • Kevin Durant

That’s everyone. It’s a bit of a stunner at first glance – is he really on par with the play of two of the league’s yearly MVP candidates? Great start aside, though, Young is unlikely to continue draining threes at such a high rate, and the per game figures are skewed due to a number of factors, like pace and disparity of talent on the team. We can’t ignore it, but it’s not (yet) a confirmation of anything.

Regardless, watching Young shine in a bigger role has been a joy to watch, and it feels like a deserved reward for a player that has often been marginalized. He’s finally getting some time in the spotlight, and he’s shining bright.


*All still images provided by MySynergySports.com (subscription required) 

  • Andrew Levan

    i think you searched for 40 or more 3 pointers made instead of 40% or higher from 3 point. That makes the list only lebron and durant from last year

    • Kyle Neubeck

      Good catch. I took a wrong turn on Basketball Reference.