Why KU must do more than try to limit Trae Young's points
If you think stopping Trae Young from scoring is the best way for No. 10 Kansas to defeat No. 4 Oklahoma this Tuesday, let me present a counterargument in the form of a number: 33.125.
That’s the number of points per game Young is averaging in losses and games decided by single digits. His shooting percentage hasn’t been great in all of them, but then again, it hasn’t been great in some of Oklahoma’s most lopsided and impressive wins this season.
Against then-No. 8 Texas Tech, Young shot 7 for 23. The Sooners won by 10.
A big win at TCU? Young shot 9 for 23. The Sooners scratched out a narrow road win over a top-10 team.
No, the secret to containing Young thus far — if there is such a thing — involves something his teammates warned about all the way back at Big 12 Media Day. Young, a 40-plus points per game scorer in high school, was known for his shot. Yet when asked about Young, teammate Kameron McGusty brought up a different part of his game first.
“It’s always good to have a player like Trae, someone who can really pass the ball, score the ball,” McGusty said. “He’s very underrated as a point guard.”
Run that back?
It’s not like the two were unfamiliar — at all.
Forget about the two-week trip the Sooners made to Australia and New Zealand this summer, Young, a Norman, Okla. native, had plenty of chances to play with the OU players. According to coach Lon Kruger at Big 12 Media Day, Young was a participant in several informal pickup games in the time prior to his commitment, something that may already be showing on the court.
“In high school, you saw him score a lot of points, but beyond that, he sees the floor well,” Kruger said at the time. “He can get into places that attract help. He can make plays for his teammates and is very willing to do that.”
So how is Trae Young, the facilitator, affecting games? Let’s look at the numbers.
The easiest way to look at things would be to compare close games and losses to blowouts. In games OU wins by 10 or more points, Young is averaging 11.0 assists to 4.1 turnovers.
In all other games, he’s putting in fewer assists (8.0 and giving away the ball more (6.75 turnovers).
That difference is even more stark when you put it in terms of simple win-loss.
- Assists per game (wins): 10.71
- Assists per game (losses): 6.00
- Turnovers per game (wins): 4.57
- Turnovers per game (losses): 7.75
Young, the NCAA leader in both turnovers and assists, is picking up around 60 percent of his average assist total in losses while his turnovers go up by more than three. There’s a pattern there.
“And that’s the key,” Kruger said, asked about Young as a facilitator. “He’s a good basketball player. He’s got good instincts.”
So when Kansas coach Bill Self says in his post-Baylor press conference he isn’t sure if you can stop or contain Trae Young, the answer might not be about that at all, or at least what that may suggest.
West Virginia was physical with Young. They made things difficult on him, and he still got his points.
You know who didn’t? Brady Manek. Three days after scoring a season-high 28 points and drilling six 3s, Manek was only able to attempt one 3-pointer and was held scoreless.
That’s a hallmark of OU’s struggles.
In OU’s biggest wins this year, Young has scored a lot, but so have his teammates.
Against TCU in Norman, Manek scored 22 points on 13 shots and hit six 3-pointers. And in Fort Worth, McGusty went off for 22 points, tying the high total in the game for anyone not named Trae Young.
The win over Texas Tech? Christian James scored 15 points on 5-for-10 shooting while Khadeem Lattin added 11 and shot 4 for 5 from the field. The win over Wichita State? Manek scored 21 while McGusty and James combined for 26. USC? James and Manek combined for 34 points on 25 shots.
"He's not a one-man team," Self said. "They've got other guys that are good. We've got to figure out a game plan on how we try to slow 'em all down."
Now let’s go to the losses.
Against West Virginia, no OU player after Young (five assists to eight turnovers) had more than 12 points. Against Oklahoma State, no one else scored more than eight. Against K-State, Rashard Odomes scored 16, but the Sooners got a collective 11 points from their bench. Oh, and Young committed a Big 12 record 12 turnovers.
So if you’re looking for a number or stat that can help Kansas past Oklahoma, don’t just jump to the point totals.
“People just think of him as someone who’s just going to come and take all the shots, but he gets his teammates involved,” McGusty said. “He’s a good leader. He’s going to help us a lot this year in terms of winning games and leading the team.”