Trae Young isn’t who you think he is. The Atlanta Hawks’ franchise point guard is a charming, soft-spoken and considerate young man who plays the game with grace and pizzazz.
But don’t let the baby-faced emerging star fool you into thinking he doesn’t possess an edge and a long memory about his detractors.
He admits that it’s not the healthiest approach to fueling his fire and silencing the critics, but it’s propelled him to the brink of a potential breakout sophomore season for the young Hawks.
“I remember coming into high school, coming into college, they were saying, ‘He’s too small.’ Coming into the league, ‘He’s too small. He has bust potential.’ The whole trade with Luka Doncic. I don’t know that there’s just one [slight],” Young told Yahoo Sports. “And whenever they stop talking just about me, they start talking about the organization and talking about how they made the worst decision and how it could be the worst trade in NBA history. That all motivates me, for sure. There are little things that stick with me. You know my family and how we roll. I’m out to prove people wrong. I’ve got screenshots on my phone of negative tweets. It’s little things like that I still have on my mind and it motivates me every time. They’ll see.”
In 81 games last season, the NBA Rookie of the Year runner-up averaged 19.1 points, 3.7 rebounds and 8.1 assists. Young was fourth in the league in assists, an aspect of his game that places him already among the elite so early in his career.
“It’s definitely not surprising to me,” Young told Yahoo Sports. “I know the people close to me don’t necessarily think that’s surprising either. I’ve always been a really good passer. I think my scoring and my long-range shooting has been what’s stood out to most people, and so it’s easy to overlook my passing ability. Passing isn’t always the most sexiest thing to watch. So, I think people look past that and focus more on my shooting and the ball going into the basket. But I feel like my passing ability has been my best attribute growing up throughout high school, college and now the NBA. I’m just going to continue getting better.”
In the third game of his NBA career, Young — at 20 — became the youngest player to post more than 35 points and 10 assists in a game since 21-year-old LeBron James did it Jan. 16, 2005. The Hawks hadn’t had a rookie score 35 or more since John Drew in 1975.
Young said he enjoyed some of the milestones he reached during his rookie campaign, but he has more lofty goals for the upcoming season.
“I believe I have a chance to be an All-Star this year,” Young told Yahoo Sports. “I think if we win as many games as I feel like we can and at least be in playoff contention, I think I have a good chance. The more we win, the better my odds are of getting into the All-Star Game and that’s my main focus: winning. I know my numbers will be there. I’m not worried about my numbers. I feel like the way we play, the fast pace we play, my numbers will be there. For me, it’s all about winning. If we’re winning, I have a really good chance of being in that All-Star game.”
To best position himself and his team for a major improvement from a 29-win season, Young said he’s gained 11 pounds of muscle.
“I don’t want to just settle for 82 games,” Young told Yahoo Sports. “Gaining muscle was something I knew I needed to focus on if I wanted to be able to play another 82 games. I want to be able to play and play at a high level for a long time.”
Young also, for the first time, worked out in Los Angeles over the summer with Hall of Fame point guard Steve Nash, whom he called “my idol.”
“I know I got on his nerves,” Young said laughing. “I asked him a lot of questions. I had to. I needed to know what he saw when he came off pick-and-rolls, how he set his man up going into pick-and-rolls, how he was able to finish around the rim in traffic around all the bigs, what his warmup routine was. I just needed answers.”
Travis Schlenk, the general manager and president of the Hawks, has put together a young core that hopes to blossom into a contender.
With coach Lloyd Pierce on the sideline, the Hawks’ plan will be to utilize their speed, athleticism and youth. Young and big man John Collins already have an aerial connection established and incorporating lottery pick Cam Reddish will be a principal objective.
The franchise appears to be headed toward a bright future.
If you ask Young, that bright future could begin as early as this season.
“I think we have a chance to make the playoffs this year,” Young told Yahoo Sports with the utmost confidence. “And I know that there are going to people out there that don’t believe it, which is fine and that comes with it. But I truly do. Without Vince Carter on the team, we’re the youngest team in the NBA. We’re still building chemistry, but as long as the chemistry is there and we click early in the season, I think we’re going to be a tough team if we connect on the defensive end because we can score. We have the talent to score and we play hard. We just have to be able to put a full 48-minutes up each and every night and treat every game like a playoff game. If we do that, then I feel like we have a really good chance of making the playoffs.”
More from Yahoo Sports: