Trae Young’s passing makes him the top point guard prospect in the 2018 NBA Draft

AMES, IA - FEBRUARY 10: Trae Young #11 of the Oklahoma Sooners passes the ball as Jakolby Long #13 of the Iowa State Cyclones blocks in the first half of play at Hilton Coliseum on February 10, 2018 in Ames, Iowa. The Iowa State Cyclones won 88-80 over the Oklahoma Sooners. (Photo by David K Purdy/Getty Images)
AMES, IA - FEBRUARY 10: Trae Young #11 of the Oklahoma Sooners passes the ball as Jakolby Long #13 of the Iowa State Cyclones blocks in the first half of play at Hilton Coliseum on February 10, 2018 in Ames, Iowa. The Iowa State Cyclones won 88-80 over the Oklahoma Sooners. (Photo by David K Purdy/Getty Images) /

The college basketball career of Oklahoma point guard Trae Young ended with a whimper. Once the runaway favorite to be National Player of the Year, Young was dispatched in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament in a hotly contested matchup with Rhode Island.

Five days after the loss, the 19-year old declared for the 2018 NBA Draft. The memories of the pull up 30-footers that launched him into the national consciousness have faded. Young stumbled to the finish line of his freshman season, making just 26.1 percent of his 3-point attempts in February and March as the Sooners finished with a 2-9 record during those months. Front offices evaluating the Oklahoma product will need to decide how much of his late season shooting struggles were the product of variance, fatigue, defense or some combination thereof.

Young’s proverbial draft stock has seemingly gone the way of his field goal percentage. NBA personnel expressed their hesitations to Bleacher Report’s Jonathan Wasserman following the Sooners’ NCAA exit. The harshest criticism came from one scout who suggested he wouldn’t take Young in the lottery. Strong end of season performances from Alabama’s Collin Sexton and Kentucky’s Shai Gilgeous-Alexander didn’t help Young’s case.

To place Young’s shooting at the forefront of his scouting profile may be a mistake. If a front office concludes he’ll check out as a 36.0 percent 3-point shooter rather than 40.0 percent one, there’s a reasonable chance such a conclusion could anchor opinions about his offensive value, ultimately underrating it.

Young’s potential to make his teammates better as a passer deserves equal consideration when thinking about what he’ll be as an NBA player. Although assists aren’t an end all measure in that respect, consider Young’s 9.8 assists per 40 minutes are tops among freshman points guards who left early in the one-and-done era:

Yes, Trae Young averaged more assists per 40 minutes than Lonzo Ball, last year’s once-in-a-decade passing prospect. Lonzo’s college success and subsequent transformation of UCLA’s offense from mediocre to elite, freewheeling Death Star caused analysts to coin the phrase “The Lonzo Effect” to describe his influence on the team. Young has received no such pleasantry.

2018 Oklahoma, of course, didn’t play the same way as 2017 UCLA. The Sooners assisted on just over half of their made field goals this season while the Bruins clocked in with a 63.7 percent team assist rate. UCLA’s offense thrived on ball movement. Oklahoma’s on ball screens and isolations. It was certainly less aesthetically pleasing.

Despite the differences, Young’s effect this season was somewhat similar. The Bruins jumped from 51st nationally in adjusted efficiency in 2016 to second in 2017 with the arrival of Lonzo. The Sooners, meanwhile, climbed from 118th last season to 38th this season while having 62.5 percent of their rotation minutes played by the same players. For perspective, that number was 59.1 percent for Lonzo’s UCLA team.

So, how much better did Young actually make his teammates this season? To answer that question, I went back to some work Luke Winn did at Sports Illustrated last spring. Winn, now the Director of Prospect Strategy for the Toronto Raptors, made a case for Lonzo as the top point guard prospect in the 2017 NBA Draft based, in part, on “The Lonzo Effect.”

To quantify the phenomenon, Winn took Lonzo’s top five teammates based on minutes played, adjusted their projected offensive rating from SI’s preseason projections to a 20.0 percent usage rate and compared it to their actual usage adjusted offensive rating at the end of the season. All told, those teammates beat their projected offensive ratings by 6.8 points per 100 possessions while the teammates of the other lottery picks — Markelle Fultz, De’Aaron Fox and Dennis Smith Jr. — actually performed worse.

“The Trae Effect” isn’t quite “The Lonzo Effect,” but Young’s top five teammates this season topped SI’s 2017-18 projections by 3.8 points per 100 possessions on average:

All of this matters. Young isn’t just a great NBA prospect because of his shooting. He can influence the game in other ways. When defenses collapse on his drives, he’s capable of whipping one-handed passes out to shooters on the perimeter. When they blitz him out of a ball screen, he’s great finding the roll man. Just look at how much better his two bigs — Brady Manek and Khadeem Lattin — were offensively this season when compared to expectations.

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Young should be able to accomplish much of the same at the next level. Historically, assists are one of the most transferable stats from the college game to the NBA. That he significantly outpaced both Sexton and Gilgeous-Alexander in the stat this season is an important factor when considering who is the top point guard prospect in the draft.

Young isn’t Lonzo as a passer. At 6-foot-3, he can’t see all the same angles available to the current Lakers point guard, but that doesn’t mean he can’t have a similar effect. Elevating his poor end of season shooting numbers above “The Trae Effect” could cause an NBA team to make a mistake come June.