Thaddeus Young has become an internet hero.
The former Georgia Tech forward has languished in virtual obscurity as a member of the perpetually rebuilding Philadelphia 76ers, but the #FreeThadYoung movement has taken “Basketball Twitter” by storm at times, and the now 25-year-old Young is a favorite of many pundits.
With that on the table, Young has been in the news for different reasons in recent days, as there is a proposed trade that would send the left-hander to the Minnesota Timberwolves in exchange for the services of former number one overall pick Anthony Bennett.
Obviously, the proposed Young-for-Bennett trade is contingent upon another deal that would send Kevin Love to Cleveland, but if we assume (at least for the next few words) that Thaddeus Young is headed for the Twin Cities. How would he fit?
First, the T-Wolves are unquestionably in “rebuilding” mode after theoretically sending Love away, but while Young is an established NBA veteran, he is only 26 years old. The biggest obstacle with regard to using Young as a building block would be his current contract, which has him locked up for only one more season at $9.16 million with an early termination option.
While Young is unquestionably a better player than Anthony Bennett at this stage, there is real doubt about whether he is the more valuable pure asset when considering cost and age, and we would have to assume that Minnesota realizes this and simply values Young highly.
As a player, the 2013-2014 season was an interesting one for the 6-foot-8 combo forward, as the Sixers were a dumpster fire on the floor, and he was asked to do a great deal. As a result of increased attention and a shift in philosophy (we’ll touch on this shortly), Young posted his least efficient season in the past four years, shooting just 45.4% from the floor with a 16.6 PER and only 3.5 win shares.
Because of the wide-open nature of the Philadelphia offense under Brett Brown, Young and rookie Michael Carter-Williams were able to attempt shots virtually at will, and he obliged to the tune of 17.0 field goal attempts per game. The bigger change, however, was that Young went from attempting a total of 12 three-pointers over two seasons, to launching an almost inconceivable 292 shots from beyond the arc in 2013-14.
The 26-year-old Young has proven to be a capable three-point shooter when called upon (34% or better in two straight seasons earlier in his career), but this was a wholesale change, and he wasn’t able to navigate things with efficiency, shooting just 30.8% from three.
Still, this decision was almost certainly driven my management, with Brown coming from the “new school” of avoiding 2-point jump shots in favor of threes, and Young had proven himself to be an efficient player with a long track record in previous seasons.
In terms of overall performance, Thaddeus Young has been one of more valuable and underrated players in the Eastern Conference since he arrived in full force during the 2010-2011 season. Young has averaged 17 points, 7 rebounds and 1.8 steals per 36 minutes over the past four seasons combined, and even with the downturn in 2013-2014, he is a 50.3% shooter from the floor over that time period. In short, he is a highly useful scorer when called upon, and he rebounds well for a player of his size.
Defensively, things aren’t quite as rosy. Young is greatly undersized (6-foot-8, 220 pounds) to play the power forward spot, but that is easily his best position offensively, which sets up an issue on the other end. Per SportVU, Young was the worst interior defender at power forward (or center) in the NBA last season, when he allowed opponents to shoot 60.2% from the field, and with his role as (presumably) the starting power forward with the Timberwolves, it will be crucial to mask that deficiency.
That brings us to any “fit” concerns with Young in Minnesota, and they are tied directly to the new regime under Flip Saunders. Big man Nikola Pekovic is handsomely paid and a wonderful offensive player in the right role, but a frontcourt pairing of Pekovic and Young would be disastrous defensively (similarly to Pekovic and Kevin Love), and that leaves Saunders with a decision to make with regard to using Pekovic or youngster Gorgui Dieng for the majority of minutes at center.
Diving into the discussion of whether Minnesota should (theoretically) trade Anthony Bennett for Thaddeus Young is an entirely different ballgame, but should they do it, it is a safe bet that Young will revert back to his more efficient production from seasons past.
As one of the top offensive options, he is likely a 15-to-17 point per game scorer who will average in the neighborhood of seven rebounds, shoot near 50%, and provide little in the way of impact defensively, with the exception of a high steal rate.
Is Thaddeus Young a superstar? Absolutely not, but he will unquestionably be an above-average power forward for one season, and if Flip Saunders and company are yearning to replace Kevin Love with a solid player in the short term, he certainly fits the bill.