The final seconds of a preseason game tick away as a rookie steps to the line trying to seal his team's win. Only this rookie is calm despite the fact his every play will determine how he is used this upcoming season. These free throws are pedestrian as he knocks both of them down, as he did four previously in the waning minutes. Only a few months ago, Joe Young was on Oregon's campus wrapping up his finals and moving out of his dorm. Today, he's fighting for a significant role on his NBA team.
The 2015-2016 Indiana Pacers roster is a little jumbled and has a unique look to say the least. The big man is gone, the veteran is off to San Antonio and much of their bench has been wiped away. With the first round pick in this year's draft, the Pacers took the big fella out of Texas, Myles Turner. Young was selected in the second round rather quietly. SB Nation's Ricky O'Donnell said at the time that Young was "a scoring point guard who can heat up in a hurry". To be completely honest, I shrugged off the pick because I was so immersed in the signing of Monta Ellis that I did not consider any other guard play besides his and George Hill's.
Young was having none of it.
He came out in the NBA Summer League, along with teammate Turner, and showed that the combo could do some serious damage. Young would lead the league in points per game at a very respectable 22.5. This mirrored his college production as he average 20.7 his senior year. Young rounded out his summer with a 51 percent from floor rating, including 45 percent from downtown and about 80 percent from the stripe. We knew Young could score but with the fast paced Pac-12 conference, it was difficult to foresee the transition to a slower, more methodical NBA offense.
Young stayed on my radar for a little while, but as training camp opened up I lost track of him again. The focus was elsewhere. What would Paul George's position be this season? Will there be drama between player, coach and front office? What should we do with Ian Mahinmi? All these questions were legitimate and need to be addressed, so it was easy to lose Young in the haze. Young did not do himself any favors in his first preseason outing, throwing up an ugly three for 11 from the floor. The jitters were evident as Young could only muster seven points in 23 minutes played. Among the positives, he did round up a couple steals and the team had a plus-6 ratio with him on the court.
I thought it was possible he would lose some playing time to other guard hopefuls such as Toney Douglas or Rodney Stuckey for the matchup against the Detroit Pistons. Vogel decided to stick with Young despite the struggles and would give him 22 minutes in the contest. With the nerves at-bay, Young turned in an impressive performance, scoring 22 points on five of ten shooting. He would also end the game with two swipes, three assists and only one personal foul. Young would re-enter the game for Douglas with 5:48 to go and the Pacers trailing 97-102. Then, he and his teammate Glenn Robinson III would combine for 13 points the rest of the way to pick up the win. This would include six free throws made in the game's last 17 seconds while the Pistons kept the score within a possession each time.
The Pistons game was a sharp reminder of Young's offensive explosiveness. My case to make for him begins with a look at the Indiana Pacers depth chart. As of now, there is not a general consensus as to where Young fits into any of it. The Pacers have a deep hybrid guard system. Many of these guys can play either way in the front court, but none possess the pure point guard skillset. George Hill had the closest resemblance to the pure one guard against the Pistons, racking up eight assists in just 15 minutes played. Bear in mind, many of those went to Paul George who scored 20 points in the first quarter alone. There is not even a sliver of doubt as to who will be starting in this year's backcourt. This is G-Hill's spot to lose and they did not sign Ellis for no reason. After that, I believe is up for discussion. ESPN lists CJ Miles as the starter at small forward for the time being (given Paul George stays at the four). Names to consider for backup: Toney Douglas, Rodney Stuckey and Joe Young. Stuckey, who was resigned in the off-season will be outnumbered for any playing time at the three spot. He will be in the rotation for guard play. Douglas comes over from the Pelicans and is the definition of a journeyman.
What advantage does Young have over either one of these guys? It's all about the offense. Douglas has a career average in points of 14.5 per 36 minutes played and has not shot over 40 percent from the floor since 2012. Stuckey possesses a 16.7 points per 36 minutes rating and has not failed to reach 40 percent in his career from the floor. Taking statistics from college, Young averaged 20.25 per 36 minutes played. There is no doubt that Stuckey will have a role on the team or the Pacers would not have brought him back. My only question comes into play when he plays point guard. He only averaged three assists a game while playing over 26 minutes per game. Many of those were at the point.
Young does not have a pure point guard sense to him. His 4.1 assists a game his senior year are not terrible, they just are nothing to write home about. When it boils down I look to see who is likely to be on the floor while starters get rest. The Pacers bench ranked 28th in the league as recent as 2013 season in scoring. Players like Mahinmi, Solomon Hill and Lavoy Allen, in my opinion, cannot carry an offensive load while the big guns take a breather. Young is an offensive spark off the bench that can carry an offense for a few minutes. This would allow George Hill a few extra minutes of rest with Young on the point. Hill had to help carry an anemic offense last season, but now would be able to craft the offense, set up Paul George and focus on distribution. The rest of this preseason will help determine which Joe Young is going to show up most days.
Something to think about...