Hawks Coach: Trae Young Must Defend

The former Oklahoma star can shoot, but he must be "a willing defender," Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce says

Tiki and Tierney
June 27, 2018 - 6:17 pm

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Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce will never forget meeting Trae Young. 

“Well, the first time we met, he told me he put on 11 pounds since the season ended – and I was fearful of what that 11 pounds looked like when it wasn’t there because he’s a tiny guy,” Pierce said on Tiki and Tierney. “To his credit, he’s core strong. He’s very shifty. Part of it is just learning how to elude screeners and how to get through screens. I coached Tony Allen at Memphis, and he was the best (at that). He was special at avoiding screens. I think that’s just a skill set, that’s an understanding of where you are on the floor. That’s trusting your teammates and the communication.”

Pierce, 42, has previously worked as an assistant for the Cavaliers, Warriors, Grizzlies, and 76ers. He has high hopes for Young, who the Hawks acquired from Dallas on draft night. 

Young is a great shooter, but he measured just shy of 6-2 and 178 pounds at the NBA Combine in May. Many analysts wonder how Young will survive in the NBA, especially while defending pick-and-rolls.

Pierce isn’t too concerned.

“They make a big deal about the bigs and how physical they are. A lot of bigs, they don’t set those screens,” he said. “You got to understand that. You got to be willing to take on contact. As a small guy, one of the things I always say is, ‘Go and hit the big first and see if he wants to set the second screen.’ You got to take the fight to him. But we’ll work on it. The bottom line is he has to understand to trust his teammates. We’ll protect him. We’ll cover for each other. But he’s also got to play his part. He’s got to be a willing defender, he’s got to play with effort he’s got to play with some pride, he’s also got to take the fight to it.”

Young shot 36.0 percent from three at Oklahoma despite being the focal point of every defense on every play. When he found daylight, though, he was lethal.

“We’ve got a four-point line on our practice court now, and we use it for spacing – not necessarily for shooting,” Pierce said. “Well, he decided he was using it for shooting on that day. Just to see his range and to see it off the dribble and to see it against defenders – that’s an easy shot for him. I think that’s where you get a lot of comparisons to that other guy out on the West Coast.”

That, of course, would be Steph Curry.

Pierce isn’t making the comparison, but he does think the NBA game will benefit Young’s style.

“When you look at the differences between the college game and the pro game, obviously you start with the spacing,” Pierce said. “We wont even mention the players. The shot clock is six seconds less, the spacing becomes tremendous because you just have guys that can shoot from deeper range and it just opens the floor up. Having that spacing and having a guy like Trae, who is going to need all the spacing and all the open spacing that he can get – when he’s in pick-and-roll or when he’s in iso situations, it’s going to be hard to help off of guys like Kevin (Huerter) and guys like Omari (Spellman). If they do, then he’s a willing passer, but if they don’t, that’s where he’s going to be able to create some separation . . . where he’ll get more uncontested threes.”