Thad Young’s Anti-Gravity & Role Fluidity

Once viewed as a tweener void of a true position, Thad Young’s transition into the era of positionless switchy basketball has been a joy to watch over the last half-decade. In year 13, Young has come off of a frightening lower leg injury, and stepped into a role building off of what’s made him a successful player since his Sixers days with a slight twist.

In 368 minutes, the Bulls are +20.4 pp/100 with Young on-court, significantly better on both ends, tied for the 9th best individual player net differential in the league.

Thad is one of the better help defenders in the league, continuing his prowess as a fantastic backline rover. However, over the last month and specifically the past three games, Young has transformed into a remarkably effective elbow hub initiator.

Over the first 12 seasons of his career, Young owns a 9% assist percentage and 10.6% turnover percentage. He’s never been an exceptional ballhandler or passer. This season he has a 25.8% assist percentage, ~13% higher than any prior season. While his turnover percentage has gone up as well, it hasn’t scaled in the way you might think as Thad is putting up a career best Assist to Turnover ratio.

Young put up 12.3 ppg/9.3 rpg/9.3 apg and 1.3 TO’s over the past three games. Let’s take a look at some other number’s to put that into context.

StatP/G #’s Past 3 GamesRanking (NBA)
Touches8213th
Paint Touches8.510th
Elbow Touches121st (2.3 higher than next 2; Jokic and Sabonis)
Dribbles p/Touch.772nd lowest Top 50 touches (Below only Vucevic)

How’s he doing it?

So you might ask yourself, how is Thad Young doing this without an even average handle? With Wendell Carter Jr. out, Thad has taken over as the post-hub for the primary-less Bulls. It’s worked brilliantly. Young has really struggled from three to start the year, so in order to counterract that lack of gravity, he’s been utilized by Billy Donovan to space the floor with his screening and mobility.

Defenses have routinely doubled Zach LaVine this season, which makes sense given his career year. While Thad is doubled off of, he slips into space, finds a perfect opening often in the paint, causing the defense to collapse. However, he rarely even dribbles, finding the pinpoint pass to open shooters or cutters.

Again, note how LaVine is doubled, Thad rolls to the middle of the floor for the open pass back from Coby White. There are few players on the Bulls roster that can make high level passing reads consistently. With Thad employed as an offensive fulcrum, his quick decision-making and positioning allows the Bulls to manufacture skip passes with an extra touch.

While Thad doesn’t have the size and physicality to screen as well as Wendell Carter Jr., he’s among the best in the league at slipping the screen.

When he slips the screen, finds the open space and gets the ball back within one or two touches, he again causes the defense to rotate and hits the open man.

Thad Young is incredibly fluid as a mover still even at age 32. I actually posited the other day that if you swapped Otto Porter Jr. and Thad’s ages on the depth chart, I’m not sure I’d question that in film.

He and Lauri Markkanen have started to develop a really nice two-man game where Lauri cuts baseline.

This is just gorgeous.

I’m 99% sure this is the best pass of Thad’s career; I didn’t have time to watch every pass he’s made since 2007, so take my word for it. The wrist twirl to get the proper spin on the ball and hit Lauri in stride is impressive regardless of who’s making the pass.

Let me be clear, Thad is not going to average over 9 assists for the rest of the year, that’s unsustainable. However, I think this skill development is here to stay as long as he’s used the way he has been over the past few weeks.

Role Fluidity

This late-career role shift from Thad Young is nothing new for him. His trajectory in the league is an oddity, reminiscent of a Guy Ritchie film arc; I really have no idea what’s going to happen in each scene, but I know I’ll enjoy it and it’ll be a fruitful watch with some fantastic background music.

The NBA is built on role-players and the majority of them don’t spend their career preparing to be role players. Once they get to the league and figure out how to stick, they expand upon that skillset and try to build a baseline of consistency.

While Thad has always brought athleticism, defensive acumen, and the ability to finish inside the paint, he’s tweaked his role each stop of his career. Under Eddie Jordan his first three years in Philly, Thad took 321 threes and was routinely used as a floor spacer. Doug Collins took over the next season and Thad took a grand total of…. 34 threes in Collins’ three seasons.

Fast forward to Minnesota and Brooklyn where Thad went on to terrorize opponents in the low-post and short-midrange with his insanely fun an effective lefty game.

While never an icon of efficency, Young hovered either right above or below league average true-shooting throughout his first decade in the league.

Once in Indiana, Thad fully shifted to a defense-first player and the 4th or 5th option on offense. I still think he was worthy of an All-Defense nod, but that’s an entire other article. He became mostly a cutter, corner shooter, and post mismatch punisher while honing his abilities as a screener.

This past year with Chicago, he inexlicably became a spacer and strictly a spacer in Jim Boylan’s offense. Unsurprisingly, Thad posted the worst offensive advanced metrics of his career.

via GIPHY

Thad Young has carved a consistent role in the league through adapting to inconsistency and routinely shifting significant parts of his game. It’s unusual, but it’s art (Ala Guy Ritchie films). If Thad pushed to be up there with Kurt Thomas and Tree Rollins as longest tenured players in the league, I wouldn’t be shocked. His left-handed flip shot might go in at a positive clip into his 40’s.

Thad Young at the Trade Deadline

Over the most recent days in watching The Bulls and Thad, thinking about the ways in which the East & West might shake out, and the looming talks of “Who can which team trade for at the deadline to make a push?” I have some thoughts.

Thad Young is incredibly valuable to the Chicago Bulls. Wendell Carter Jr. is out for quite some time still and as shown throughout the article, Thad has bolstered both the offense and defense. Daniel Gafford is young and bouncy, but he’s not ready to play a significant role on a winning team, or at least one that aspires to. And that’s the thing, this Bulls team is not tanking. They want to win and at least attempt to make the playoffs.

Outside of Zach LaVine and acknowledging WCJ’s injury, I’d argue that Thad is their second best player right now, or at least most impactul. Lauri Markkanen’s shown growth, but the defense is still a mess (However his perimeter defense has improved in my eyes), Coby White is still finding his way to becoming a positive player on both ends, and Patrick Williams is 19 but has shown great flashes already.

While Thad would certainly be an incredible addition to any contender, notably Miami, Utah, and Brooklyn among others, he poses just as much value to the Bulls. Plus, in crunching numbers and perusing the salary sheets of Chicago and potential trade suitors, there just isn’t much that makes sense monetarily. Even if it does work financially, Thad is probably worth more than a second-round pick and an expiring.

Regardless of where Thad Young is playing, he’s going to have a positive impact, just like he has throughout his career. He’ll do a little bit of everything he’s illustrated since his days at Georgia tech, but don’t be too surprised to see Thad throw in some new spin to his craft as he continues to prosper in the NBA.

Leave a Reply