Lionel Hollins’s 2015-16 Brooklyn Nets have been wildly erratic, with too many lower-tier defenders and not enough shooting firepower to compete every night. But despite the frustrating turbulence, Thaddeus Young has somehow managed to churn out versatile consistency.
Armed with an ever-growing offensive arsenal and a worker’s mindset, the nine-year veteran has become the squad’s most dependable two-way player. While he’s not superstar material, any team would be lucky to add Young to their frontcourt.
The 6’8” combo forward has served as a vital attacker and the Nets’ most productive rebounder this season so far. After injecting some life into the Nets’ offense last spring after being traded from the Minnesota Timberwolves, Young has really come into his own during his first full campaign with the club:
Thaddeus Young is such a good player. Always been one of my favorites, but he’s taken his game to another level this year.
— Mike Prada (@MikePradaSBN) December 26, 2015
Young isn’t without blemishes this season: His three-point and free throw percentages are well below his career averages. And he’s not quite as explosive as he was during his Philadelphia 76ers days.
Yet he remains a threat in all phases due to his footwork, awareness and touch. Young is averaging 15.8 points and a team-high 9.1 rebounds, along with a career-high 19.3 PER. He’s also sixth in the NBA in double-doubles with 16.
He’s constantly impactful because the Nets can implement him in a variety of ways. Young offers Hollins production as an off-ball mover within the flow of the offense, and he can also work as the primary weapon or catalyst for stretches.
It’s not a mystery as to why he’s able to consistently score 15-17 points per night on 52 percent shooting. Young does a superb job finding buckets in and around the paint, as this NBASavant.com chart illustrates:
As an off-ball target, Young expertly finds the soft spots in the defense and gives himself great angles to catch and pass or score. He can catch at the mid-post off a short roll and make plays or work craftily along the baseline.
Here he foiled the Dallas Mavericks’ defense by sliding to the deep baseline and changing direction for the reverse layup:
Young has also enjoyed a steady diet of close-range buckets via transition. Most of his early offense doesn’t come in the form of spring-loaded dunks, but well-timed and well-choreographed scoop shots and floaters.
During the Nets’ road win over the Chicago Bulls, he took advantage of the open space on the secondary break, attacking Taj Gibson with strength and dexterity:
When he operates as Brooklyn’s on-ball weapon in the half court, Young has proven to be dangerous on both face-up forays and post-up moves. Sometimes it’s a quick drop-step for a baseline drive, and other times it’s a running hook or a step-back jumper. He currently leads the Nets in field goal percentage between three and 10 feet from the hoop.
Young’s mid-range game allows him to regularly put points on the board even when he can’t get all the way to the rim. The Nets’ point guards can feed him at the elbow, mid-post or short corner with confidence.
Watch him size up Dallas’ Zaza Pachulia for a mid-range step-back jumper:
He explained his recent scoring success to Anthony Puccio of NetsDaily.com:
People haven’t noticed, but I’ve been using a power dribble to get my balance and get up over guys. I take my power dribble and I’m going into guys to push them off their path towards me. So even if I do miss the shot, I can get back up and get the rebound and tip it in.
Young also does his best to keep the offense flowing as a passer. He’s not a high-volume dime-dropper (although he’d presumably post more assists on a more talented team), but he makes the right reads nearly every time he touches the ball.
A huge reason why Young has made a positive impact for Brooklyn every night is because he consistently shows up in the blue collar departments of defense and rebounding.
From a boards-per-possession standpoint, 2015-16 has been his best year by far. He’s averaging 14.1 rebounds per 100 possessions, and his next-best output was 11.5 in 2012-13. It’s a good thing he’s crashed the glass so effectively: The Nets need all the defensive rebounds they can get, thanks to their porous defense, and any offensive boards are a welcome compensation for the team’s shaky shooting.
While Young’s defense has never been elite, he’s grown into an above-average stopper who displays awareness and effort on the interior and perimeter. Where he lacks in lateral burst and vertical shot-blocking prowess, he makes up for with positioning, length and effort. On the perimeter, he holds opponents to 35 percent from three-range and 36 percent between 15 feet and the arc (per NBA.com).
Here are a couple examples of his defensive alertness and execution. Against Victor Oladipo and Aaron Gordon of the Magic, Young demonstrated his ability to wall off slashers and make well-timed contests:
Young’s multidimensional contributions were also featured against the Mavericks. During the final play of regulation, Young switched onto J.J. Barea after a screen, and he tracked down the speedy guard for a game-saving block:
If only some of his comrades could emulate that kind of discipline and hustle on a routine basis. The Nets would be a much more respectable defensive unit if that were the case.
But that’s wishful thinking, and Young is unfortunately toiling on a team filled with inconsistent contributors. No teammate outside of Brook Lopez delivers consistent scoring, and no one else besides the injured Rondae Hollis-Jefferson has brought top-shelf defense on a night-in, night-out basis. He’s the only Net consistently playing at a high level on both sides of the court, which makes his diligence and fortitude that much more impressive.
Brooklyn is certainly lucky to have a do-it-all forward like Young. Considering the inevitable, continual league-wide salary upsurges, his four-year, $50 million dollar deal is starting to look more and more like a bargain.