Trae Young
(Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)

Trae Young Isn’t Great in the Clutch, Here’s Why

Trae Young has put together an incredible playoff run. That much is undeniable. The 22-year old is averaging 29.8 points and 9.5 assists per game, leading the Atlanta Hawks to the Eastern Conference Finals in his first-ever NBA Playoffs. He is putting up great numbers, but his efficiency late in games takes a major downturn. There’s a reason for that, but let’s set the boundaries first.

“The Clutch” is defined as the last five minutes of a game where the score is within five points or fewer. Within these parameters for the 2021 NBA Playoffs, Trae Young is shooting 36.8% from the field and 25% from three-point range. Those numbers rank 52nd and 30th respectively for the 2021 Playoffs. The rank is skewed a little bit by a few players who only took one clutch shot in the playoffs and made it, but these shooting numbers are pretty bad either way. Over the entire playoffs, Trae is shooting 42.7% from the field and 32.6% from three, and these numbers are about equal to his performance in non-clutch situations. Why does Trae Young lose so much efficiency in the clutch?

Why Trae Young Is Not Good in Clutch Situations

Trae Young is an extremely versatile player. At any given point during the game, he is a threat to pull up from 30 feet, drive and shoot a floater, drive and throw a lob, drive and kick, pick-and-pop, and the list goes on. Defenders have to account for all of these possibilities, which makes Young very difficult to guard.

In clutch situations, however, the norm for NBA teams is to just hand the ball to their best player. I think it’s pretty interesting that the “analytically-driven” NBA always chooses iso-heavy hero-ball late in games, but I digress. The point is, this crunch-time strategy hurts Trae Young. Why? Because he’s cutting off a ton of his offensive options. You know Trae is taking the shots in the clutch. Young is the de facto best player on the Hawks, so he’s getting the ball in those situations with the idea that he’s scoring the ball. These high isolation plays essentially eliminate his deadly pick-and-roll options, which in turn allows defenders to guard and contest him much more easily. Higher contest rates result in inefficiency for Trae Young as defenders key in on his field goal attempts, knowing that’s exactly what’s coming.

The Solution?

What’s the solution? I’m not necessarily an advocate for hero-ball, especially considering that teams already know the best way to score any other time in the game is to move the ball around. Trae Young can fool a longer defender with his array of offensive skills, but in situations where he’s only pulling one of those options out of his bag, he isn’t going to blow past anyone. Young simply isn’t big enough or fast enough to be the most capable isolation player. In the playoffs, he’s scored on 39.3% of his isolation possessions. My guy Kevin Huerter is shooting 45.9% from the field in the playoffs. I’m no mathematician, but 45.9% is higher than 39.3%. Maybe the Hawks should consider moving the ball around in the clutch like they do at every other point? Just a thought. Seems like they don’t have an issue scoring when they do that.

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