Thaddeus Young: Is He Any Good?

The Indiana Pacers traded the 20th pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, which became Caris LeVert, to the Brooklyn Nets for Thaddeus Young.

Nearly two full years later, Young is a key piece in the starting lineup for a team that just won its 47th game, still has a chance to win 50, and has improved immensely this year after the departure of the majority of last year’s team.

Now, we know Young’s not an All-Star. He’s a serviceable starter, the fifth option behind Victor Oladipo, Myles Turner, Bojan Bogdanovic, and Darren Collison in some order. And since this column’s all about providing proper context for the question of “is he any good?” (as in we don’t judge the eighth man by the same standard as we judge Stephen Curry), let’s properly frame this question.

Did the Indiana Pacers get a better-quality player in trade for the 20th pick than you’d have expected them to get drafting in that spot?

Let’s also assume they didn’t know any more than Brooklyn did whether LeVert would be any good. That’s a different article. We’ll compare them, sure, but LeVert’s only in his second year and the jury is still out.

The Counting Stats

Young’s numbers have been down a bit this year in terms of efficiency, more a regression to his career numbers than a catastrophic dropoff.

He’s scoring 12 points a game, grabbing 6.4 rebounds, and getting 1.7 steals a game. The scoring’s below his career average (no surprise; he’s the fifth option) and the rebounding and grand theft roundball are right around his career marks.

Likewise, while his field goal percentage is down (48.9 percent after 52.7 last year and 49.9 for his career), he’s shooting more three-pointers (2.3, most since 2013-14) and making them at a poor but on his career average clip (32.0 percent; he’s at 32.6 lifetime.)

Curiously, he’s lost his touch at the free throw line, hitting just 59.8 percent (and 52.3 last year), miles below his 67.5 career mark.

So, put another way, he’s Thad Young. He’s the same guy he’s been for 11 NBA seasons.

The Advanced Stats

We start with the Big Four: 14.9 PER, .102 WS/48, 1.5 BPM, 2.3 VORP. Those are nearly identical to last year’s numbers (14.9, .100, 1.4, 1.9) with a bit of a boost from playing on a better team.

For what it’s worth, LeVert’s numbers are 14.2, .056 (on a much worse team), -0.6, and plus-0.6. He’s good. He’s got potential. This will come into play in a minute.

While those squeaky-below-league-average PER figures aren’t great, it is important to remember that PER, more than other advanced stats, relies heavily on counting stats for its context; a volume shooter will always put up a higher number than a fifth option (to wit, Donovan Mitchell of the Jazz, who is horrifyingly inefficient but PER doesn’t care that he takes 21 shots to get his 23 points, it just sees all those points and spits back a 16.5, not penalizing Mitchell for missing as much as it rewards him for making shots.)

Besides, the Pacers are 6.8 points per 100 possessions better with Young on the floor than off it, and his Net Rating on-court is plus-4.2. He’s a linchpin.

Put another way, in a vacuum, what you’ve got is the very model of an ideal fourth or fifth starter on an NBA team. We could call it right here, but…

The Draft Context

The 20th pick has produced a remarkable array of quality NBA players. Consider Zach Randolph, Jameer Nelson, Evan Fournier, Hubert Davis, Larry Nance, and Zydrunas Ilgauskas.

Then again, consider Harry Giles, Bruno Caboclo, Renaldo Balkman, and Julius Hodge.

If you have a chance to trade a 20th pick for a quality NBA starter, you make that trade. Because you might get a quality player, you might even get an All-Star, but you just as easily might get a guy who never plays an NBA game.

THE VERDICT!

The Pacers won that trade with Brooklyn. They traded a bench guy on a rookie deal to a bad team with nothing to gain from keeping a veteran around for a guy who fits well with a squad that has a chance to make the Eastern Conference Finals if things break their way and is in any event a legit team to watch for the next couple of seasons; they wouldn’t have had that if they’d been trying to develop a fringe starter into a quality player while trying to win ballgames.

So you could argue that Young was a win-now move to placate Paul George (and therefore something of a failure since PG13 left after a disappointing 42-40 season and an ignoble playoff sweep), but on the other hand, he’s a key contributor to a team that with Victor Oladipo around is even better.

Which all means that this one’s Confirmed.