Thaddeus Young is the Playmaking Big Every Contender Needs — The Playgrounder

The trade deadline is coming up soon, and contenders are searching for that last piece that will put them over the top. One player who can be that piece (should the Chicago Bulls decide to move him) is Thaddeus Young, who is having a breakout season at age 32 . Matt Esposito recently alluded to the Boston Celtics picking up Young here at The Playgrounder , but Young has a wide array of skills that will make him valuable to any contender.

Young has reinvented himself as a playmaking big this season, and the results have been extraordinary. He is averaging a career-high 4.3 assists per game off the bench, with a career-high 23.1 percent assist percentage . These numbers are almost double his previous career-highs! In addition to his excellent passing, Young uses his exquisite lefty hook shot to score efficiently-he’s registering a 60.6 percent effective field goal percentage -and plays good defense.

Young’s playmaking has been crucial to the Bulls’ offensive success this season; they run a lot through Young, and he has delivered. He can sit at the top of the key and pick out cutters, he can find the open man on the short roll, and he can pry open space even on simple handoffs. With a shortage of passers on the roster, the Bulls have needed Young’s playmaking to make the offense hum, and indeed, they are 15.2 points per 100 possessions better with Young on the floor, including 12.5 points better on offense.

One stretch in the Bulls game against the Detroit Pistons last week stands out, as called out by Zach Lowe when praising Zach LaVine on a recent episode of The Lowe Post (60:13 mark).

“The Pistons started trapping Zach LaVine on every pick-and-roll and you know what Zach LaVine did? [He said,] ‘Oh, you’re going to trap me? Here you go Thaddeus Young. I’m not forcing the issue at all. Here you go play four-on-three. I get no assists for this; I get no credit for it…”

These plays showed a lot of growth by LaVine, as Lowe was alluding to, but it’s Young who made them work. Young made the correct reads to find Tomas Satoransky and Patrick Williams for open layups. These plays hinged on Young making quick reads to attack an unsettled defense and make them pay for doubling LaVine.

These plays reminded me of last season’s first-round series between the Los Angeles Lakers and Portland Trail Blazers, when the Lakers blitzed Damian Lillard on every pick-and-roll, forcing him to pass to Jusuf Nurkic and Hassan Whiteside. But the Blazers’ bigs could not make the Lakers pay, as they repeatedly made wrong decisions that either led to turnovers or let the Lakers reset their defense. Nurkic had 18 assists and 13 turnovers in the five-game loss, while Whiteside was even worse with just two assists and six turnovers. Too often, the Blazers looked like this:

Despite having a lethal scoring backcourt with Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, the Blazers were punchless in their loss. They finished with a 105.0 offensive rating for the series, which would have ranked last in the NBA in the regular season. This happened in large part because they did not have bigs who could make plays for others when the ball was forced out of Lillard’s hands. But this is not to pick on Portland, who played an excellent Lakers defense -plenty of other teams have similar issues every year.

In the playoffs, margins get tighter, and offenses need playmaking from anywhere they can get it. Defenses will focus on taking away your first option, and you need someone who can make them pay for doing so. Warriors GM Bob Myers famously talked of the difference between the playoffs and regular season at the Sloan Sports and Analytics Conference two years ago, saying of playoff defenses, “It’s like a baseball player where they say, ‘here’s the scouting report, he cannot hit a curveball away.’ He’s getting a curveball away every single pitch… Whatever they know he does well is gone. That’s where you need to check as many boxes as you can.” If you have a big who cannot pass, defenses will put that big in a position where he has to make the right play over and over again. Versatility is key, and Thaddeus Young provides it.

Ironically, the hangup to any trade is Young’s ridiculously tradable contract. The Bulls have Young under contract for next season at a reasonable $14.2 million, and Young helps provide a better offensive environment for LaVine and the Bulls’ other young players. The Bulls are also competing for a playoff spot themselves this season, though they would likely have to go through the play-in round should they make it. There are other compelling arguments not to trade Young , and because of this, the cost will be high. The Bulls will likely require a first rounder, and possibly more. Yet, given all the value Young provides, contenders should be willing to meet this price. Unless Bradley Beal (or LaVine) becomes available, Young is one of the best options on the trade market this season.

Originally published at on February 24, 2021.

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