Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young is a fantastic young player who also can be, if we’re being blunt, really fucking annoying. This is because Young has managed to model his game after Steph Curry (unlimited range, able to pull up and shoot at any moment) and James Harden (lots of dribbling, always looking to draw a foul) in such a way that often leaves one with the impression that he is a thin imitation of both.
It doesn’t help that Young has this season begun to develop his own methods of foul-drawing chicanery. Every fan who has watched a Hawks game while rooting for the other team has at some point thrown their hands up in the air in disgust at the sight of Young pulling off what’s become his signature move: dribbling around a screen, waiting for the defender to recover behind him, then stopping on a dime, jumping backwards, and baiting the defender into a shooting foul.
I do not know enough about basketball to know what sort of knock-on effects playing this way all the time can have on a guy like Trae Young, but it’s hard not to consider the possibility of those effects existing while watching how last night’s game between the Mavericks and Hawks ended. Down by one point with 4.7 seconds remaining, the Hawks attempted to execute in an inbounds play that involved Young setting a screen for John Collins. Young set his screen well, but instead of popping out to receive the pass afterwards, he, let’s say, allowed himself to be knocked to the ground by Willie Cauley-Stein:
Young’s angry reaction to Cauley-Stein not being called for a foul seemed to reveal a bit about how intentionally Young was trying to draw one. But after the game, Young denied that he went to the floor cynically, telling reporters, “I’m not going to fall just to fall at the end. That’s just the most frustrating part. Not really having an opportunity to make a play at the end is just really frustrating.”
Maybe Young is telling the truth, and he was not consciously trying to draw a foul instead of getting in position to take a potential game-winning shot. Or maybe drawing fouls has become such an integral part of his game that the act of doing so is no longer as much of a conscious choice as it used to be. Either way, Young ended up having to rely on the whistle to make a play for him, a tactic that works right up until it doesn’t.