Trae Young Presents Massive Challenge for the 76ers
The 76ers were heavy favorites in round 1 versus the Washington Wizards. The second round matchup against Atlanta presents different challenges but should have a similar result. The key to stopping Atlanta is forcing Trae Young to play out of his comfort zone. That is harder than it sounds.
Doc Rivers talked about the speed and shooting that the 22 year old Young possesses, before complimenting his ability as a decision maker. "Extremely high IQ" Said Rivers "He's a tough cover every night for everyone, he'll be a tough cover for us."
Who is Trae young? The 6'1" Oklahoma Guard is slight of build but plays with an effortless style that makes him an extremely difficult one on one matchup for most defenders. His ability to hit a step back three from well behind the 3 point line, as well as drive downhill and initiate the pick and roll has made him one of the most exciting players in the league.
Young averaged 25.3 points per game this season, to go along with 9.4 assists. Unlike the Wizards tandem of Beal and Westbrook, Young is a true threat in multiple ways in the pick and roll. Young also has better weapons for lobs than the Wizards possessed.
The Sixers default defense is drop coverage in pick and roll defense, but with a player like Young it's not quite as simple as sticking to your scheme. "Trey's that good. He warrants a lot of different books, not only just individual coverage, but also team coverage as well you have to change your looks on him that way." Rivers said before game 1.
Nate McMillan, the Hawks head coach talked about what he expects the 76ers to throw at his young point guard. He had glowing praise for Philadelphia's defense but said "Everything that we pretty much expect, Trey has seen it this season, all of our guys have, so I think it's a very similar to last series (NYK) where, this is a really good defense. They do a good job of pressuring the ball."
So don't expect the 76ers to just pick one guy to step out and guard Young every shift. There will be a combination of coverages, switches and matchups designed to keep Young from getting comfortable and used to the angles and passing lanes. Expect the 76ers to use Danny Green, Matisse Thybulle. Ben Simmons, and George Hill at different times as the primary defender at the point of attack, but don't expect a steady diet of any one look.
In the first shift of game 1, the 76ers started with Danny Green as the primary defender on Young. The Hawks opened up with a blistering 14/18 from the field and a quick 34 points in the first 10 minutes. Young had his way with Danny Green for 12 points and 5 assists in the opening quarter.
The key will be to make Young play the game from side to side, versus downhill. Analysis of Trae Youngs shot location heat map shows a player that likes to play downhill and stress the defense vertically versus someone who plays side to side.
Compare the above to Bradley Beall, the 76ers first round challenge and you see the difference. Beal is masterful at manipulating defenses laterally and getting to his spots on the floor from right to left. But for all his immense gifts one on one as a scorer, he does not have Young's ability to be a threat from extreme deep range.
When Joel Embiid is off the floor look to see if the Hawks try to force Dwight Howard to make complex decisions defensively either staying with Capela/Collins to take away lobs and collect rebounds, or to challenge Young when he gets downhill and into the lane.
On the other end of the floor it will be important to make Young play as much defense as possible. The Hawks will likely attempt to hide him on Danny Green as much as they can, which is how they began early in game 1. The 76ers should invest in forcing switches to put Young in situations where his size and 180 pound frame will be a hindrance late in games and late in the series.
As game 1 wore on, the 76ers pressured Young with multiple looks causing him to shoot just 6-16 from the floor over the last three quarters. A late comeback fell short, but the game plan seemed to be a bit of a rope a dope from Doc Rivers, lulling Young into a sense of comfort before switching things up. Unfortunately for Philadelphia the hole they dug for themselves with 19 turnovers was too much to overcome, leading to a game 1 loss, 128-124.
The Hawks have multiple weapons around Young, but he is unquestionably the head of the snake in Atlanta. Taking him out of his comfort zone will be crucial to the 76ers advancing to their first Eastern Conference Finals in this era.