Thaddeus Young is clearly one of the most dependable cogs on the 2015-16 Brooklyn Nets roster. He’s also one of their biggest investments, having inked a sizable four-year, $50 million contract in July.
If the club wants to remain competitive this season, coach Lionel Hollins must maximize Young’s skills and impact by putting him in optimal positions to thrive.
The 6’8″, eight-year veteran gave Brooklyn a boost last spring after he was acquired from the Minnesota Timberwolves for Kevin Garnett at the trade deadline. Now Young enters his first full season in the Big Apple with a chance to build on his late-season success.
Here’s how Hollins and Co. can get the most out of their southpaw power forward this year:
Sharpen two-way chemistry and spacing with Brook Lopez
The partnership of Young and Brook Lopez got off to a great start last season, and it’s imperative that they continue to establish and polish their chemistry on both ends of the floor.
Young’s ability to play at the foul line extended and beyond the arc enables Lopez to operate freely in the paint, and Young also converts efficiently near the bucket when Lopez roams the mid-range. Fred Katz of Bleacher Report explained exactly how effective the duo was last year:
In the end, the Nets outscored opponents by 3.2 points per 100 possessions when they used lineups with both Young and Lopez. That’s even more impressive when you realize Brooklyn, as a team, actually got outscored by 3.1 points per 100 over the course of the full season.
The Nets need to springboard off this success and identify optimal spots for Young to feast off Lopez’s interior prowess. When Lopez dives to the rim on pick-and-rolls, Young needs to slide into spot-up position at or near the top of the key. And Young also needs to improve his feel for Lopez’s pick-and-pop spots, that way he can cut to the rim.
This inside-out chemistry project also applies to the defensive side, where Young’s closeout talent should pair well with Lopez’s rim-protecting size.
Get him the rock early in the possession
Everyone knows pushing the ball up the court and targeting open-floor opportunities is a great way to score efficiently. But it’s even more advantageous for Young, who’s more gifted and versatile early in the shot clock than most combo forwards.
He has great body control as a trailing cutter and driver during the secondary break, and he’s a steady pick-and-pop option during the opening action of a possession. Not only did Young post a 62 effective field goal percentage during the first two seconds of the shot clock in 2014-15 (which should only consist of high-percentage attempts for anyone), he notched 63 percent effective field goal shooting during the 22-18 second range as well.
Brooklyn won’t be a true run-and-gun team as long as Lopez is the center, but it can afford to selectively attack in transition more often. It’s a worthwhile venture when Young’s filling the lane.
The first few seconds after the fast break are critical as well. Hollins should free up Young with brush screens or pick-and-roll action to get him going rather than dumping it to Lopez or isolating for Joe Johnson right away. There will be plenty of time throughout the season for Lopez and Johnson to operate during the mid-to-late portions of the clock.
Let him create and facilitate from elbow/short corner
Young scores most of his field goals close to the rim, but many of his best possessions as a slasher and passer start at the elbow or short corner. He’s gradually become a solid passer over the course of his career.
During Young’s time with the Minnesota Timberwolves, Flip Saunders did a nice job of getting Young the ball on one side and sending cutters to the rim. Young averaged a career-high 3.0 assists per 36 minutes in Minny, helping streamline the Wolves’ young offense before he was traded.
In this strong outing against the Atlanta Hawks, note how many of his drives and assists came from the elbow or short corner:
It’d behoove the Nets to sprinkle in more of these opportunities for Young entering 2015-16, especially considering the club’s new point guard trio may not generate a ton of assists.
The best part is that Brooklyn doesn’t have to get fancy about it. One NBA scout noted to Sports Illustrated that Young can manufacture offense quickly when he gets the ball in the right spot:
Young doesn’t need to go through a play to score. He’s good at catching off the elbow and creating for himself. With Lopez out there, Young has the ability to get to the rim.
When Hollins isn’t busy drawing up pick-and-rolls for Lopez, he should give Young plenty of touches and let him make sound decisions.
Capitalize on cross-matches against centers
This is more of a quick statistical note than a major strategy, but it’s worth highlighting: Whenever Young finds himself squaring off against a center, he knows how to take advantage with his superior agility and shooting stroke.
He scored efficiently against a slew of 5s and combo bigs last year: Marc Gasol (12-of-17), Greg Monroe (11-of-16), Anderson Varejao (8-of-12), Marcin Gortat (10-of-15), Alex Len (7-of-11), Andre Drummond (7-of-11) and DeAndre Jordan (7-of-13), per NBASavant.com. Young torched several others, but we kept our sampling to matchups of 10-plus attempts.
Hollins would be wise to create and take advantage of scenarios where Young is guarded by a 5-man. Although he’s not an ultra-quick player or deadly outside shooter, Young’s foot speed and jump shot make him a tough cover for most plodding centers who are 6’10” or bigger.