Atlanta needs a #1 option to go alongside Trae Young


It's easy to overpower Trae Young for the streak he had against Miami, but he needs help.

It’s easy to overpower Trae Young for the streak he had against Miami, but he needs help.
picture: Getty Images

You can blame Trae Young for much of Atlanta’s first-round elimination to Miami. He was 22-to-69 from the floor, shot 17 percent from 3 and had as many turnovers (31) as he had assists (31). He didn’t even do it listen to the huddle before the last game of your season, so if you want to destroy it, feel free. I won’t stop you

The main reason the team failed to recreate the magic of last postseason as it got to the Eastern Conference Finals is the Hawks themselves. Comparing Young to the player he was traded for on draft night , Luke Dončić, is unfair, but it’s even more unreasonable to expect him to lead the team to consistent playoff success as the No. 1 goalscorer.

Being the #1 option is not the same as being the best player on a team. Atlanta can win a title with Young as the best player; It cannot win a title if Young is the de facto goal threat.

It sounds silly to say that about a guy who was one of the top 5 goalscorers this year. He averaged 28 points, nearly 10 assists and nearly four rebounds with 46-38-90 shooting splits. How on earth did this hot take artist write that? That’s because I’ve seen this before.

The Portland Trail Blazers, a team I follow to an unhealthy degree, also employ a short point guard who shoots first and plays defense last, and I think it’s safe to say Peak’s Damian Lillard is better than any version of boy we’ve seen. Yet Lillard’s playoff misses are numerous, and often the formula to defeat the six-time All-Star is similar to that used to take out Young. Protect them with bigger players, blitz them on pick and rolls, let their teammates beat you, and live with the insanely difficult shots they make.

In fact, one could argue that their teams’ runs to the Conference Finals involved as much luck as brilliant play. The Knicks and Thunder were overrated, the Nuggets and 76ers were good, but neither Joel Embiid nor Nikola Jokic were MVP contenders or winners, and both faced championship-caliber teams at Golden State and Milwaukee that they beat with relative ease despite key player injuries.

That doesn’t mean that fans should take less pleasure in watching reruns of Lillard’s buzzer beater at the end of the series from almost halfway across the court, or that Young will become the best villain in Madison Square Garden since Reggie Miller. However, deep playoff runs with the same roster makeup and blueprint didn’t work for Lillard, and if his streak against the Heat was any indication, it won’t work for Young either.

The difference between the two is that Dame knows he has to trust his teammates, and Young hasn’t learned that yet. While Portland is late in overtake mode because Lillard believed CJ McCollum was a mistake, Young has no McCollum. What his team does have, however, is enough wealth to trade for the next disgruntled All-Star.

The list of point guards 6-foot-3 and under who were No. 1 on a team that won the Finals is short. In fact, it’s not even a list. It’s a name: Isaiah Thomas.

Next was Allen Iverson. The Answer reached the finals in a poor season for the NBA, but still only managed a single win. (Thank goodness, too, because it kept the Lakers from winning the playoffs.) These two lightweight guards were surrounded by good to all-time great defensive players that may have worked in the late ’80s and early aughts, but teams are too smart and score too many points to let opponents hide offensive or defensive liabilities. (Thomas was neither, which is why he should rather be mentioned as an all-time great. If only he didn’t insult Larry Bird, piss off Michael Jordan and sexually harass his employees, alas.)

Chris Paul, the Point God, never reached — or tragically came close to — a finale until he played alongside a true No. 1 scoring option. Because as good as Blake Griffin was, he never reached 70 in a game. (I think we can agree that the Rockets were a final-worthy team in 2018 that just played in the same conference as one of the greatest teams in NBA history.) We’ve seen CP3 look like the guy, as Booker was out, and so on, looked as sustainable as any Hawks or Blazers team has done in recent times.

I know Paul isn’t the Clippers or Hornets version of himself. However, we also know that he can’t win a title with just elbow fadeaways and complementary pieces. He has perfected the art of game management and selects his spots exquisitely. The Suns needed him to get off the field 14-for-14 to close the Pelicans because Booker wasn’t 100 percent. It’s possible for Paul to carry a team offensively for a game or two, but he’ll inevitably need help, like in Phoenix’s Game 5 win when he won 8-18 and picked up a massive 31 points from Mikal Bridges.

Young is an incredibly gifted passer who could spend most of the 48 minutes setting up teammates while waiting for and then taking chances to score. As he’s currently built and trained, he feels the onus is on him to be the franchise, hit the big shots and carry the offense.

Trae can still own Atlanta and shake like a donkey after deep 3s without being the go-to scorer. Not doing something that only one player has ever done isn’t a knock if it’s a reality. And the reality is, these Hawks are not these Pistons teams, and Young’s defense is not in the same galaxy as that team’s Hall of Fame point guard.

Until Atlanta Trae sources a running mate who can reach 40 and allows him to hit 25 and 15 on offense flow, the team and Young will be saddled with unreasonable and unattainable expectations and remain stuck in NBA purgatory.

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