Watching idly from the sideline at Oracle Arena as the 40-4 Golden State Warriors built a double-figure lead over the Indiana Pacers in a matter of minutes, Joe Young probably should have been intimidated. When he checked into the game with seven minutes remaining in the first quarter, he was handed, arguably, the toughest defensive assignment in the NBA: Stephen Curry. On his first defensive possession, Indiana's rookie (like so many before him) was too slow fighting over the top of a screen set by Harrison Barnes. The result, unsurprisingly, was the league's reigning MVP splashing in a three-pointer from 26-feet away from the basket.
Having only played 20 or more minutes in one of the team's first 43 games, it would have been natural for Young to shirk under the pressure of the national spotlight. Instead, he delivered his best overall performance of the 2015-16 season, recording 16 points, eight assists, and three rebounds on 50 percent shooting.
This is the Joe Young, the fearless, fleet of foot, multi-faceted scorer, who impressed at the Orlando Pro Summer League. But, it's also the one whose irrational confidence can sometimes be both a blessing and a curse.
How did Joe Young impress?
Joe Young needed to be where the regular minutes were this season. When he was (i.e. Fort Wayne), he showed flashes of what he could bring to the Pacers in a larger role. Playing in just three games with the Mad Ants, Young tallied 30 percent of the minutes he played in 41 games with the Pacers, averaging 24.3 points while shooting 43 percent from the field and above 60 percent from three.
Across those contests, Indiana's rookie reinforced what the Blue & Gold already knew about him from his four years at the University of Oregon: He can put the ball through the hoop in a variety of ways. With Indiana's farm club, Young demonstrated his ability to knock down smooth jump shots whether off the dribble or the catch. His woeful 21 percent shooting from three with the Pacers this season seems more indicative of rust being the enemy of a rhythm shooter than an overall struggle with extending his shooting range to the NBA distance.
The 43rd overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft also showed that he can compensate for his somewhat shaky handle with his speed. With under one minute to play against the Grand Rapids Drive, Young used a screen set by Rakeem Christmas to blow right by his defender and put the Mad Ants up by five.
How did Joe Young disappoint?
While his intermittent stints with the Mad Ants granted him the ability to stay sharp when he was out of the Blue & Gold's rotation, unfortunately, the part of his game most in need of development never had much of an opportunity to blossom. Prior to Ty Lawson's addition, Young's purpose with the Pacers was to provide emergency depth when either George Hill was out for personal reasons or Rodney Stuckey was injured. During his brief sojourn in Fort Wayne, he had to build instant chemistry with new teammates. This situation seemed to stunt the growth of his floor game.
Against the Iowa Energy, Young committed seven turnovers, all of which were the product of either a lost ball or bad pass. As he displayed with the Pacers, the 23-year-old has a tendency to dribble into traffic without a backup plan. And, though he's proven himself capable of knocking down pull-up mid-range jumpers out of the pick-and-roll, he probably should have taken better advantage of his time with the Mad Ants to work on his court vision in those situations. Take this play for instance, Young spends almost the entirety of the shot clock trying to break down his defender and ends up committing a turnover.
Furthermore, because his minutes with the Pacers were so sporadic, when his number was finally called, he sometimes appeared either overly confident or too intent on proving himself when he just needed to let the game come to him. Here, the rookie has the opportunity to advance the ball to Paul George on the final possession of the first quarter against the Charlotte Hornets. Instead, he takes it himself and forces up a bad turnaround jump shot.
What's next for Joe Young?
The Orlando Pro Summer League, where the soon-to-be sophomore guard will have the opportunity to demonstrate that his passing can be on par with his scoring ability. While there, he also may want to work at finding the delicate balance between self-belief and overcompensation. Rather than trying to make a memorable splash at the end of a quarter (as was shown above), Young needs to channel the level of quiet confidence he exhibited mid-season against the Golden State Warriors.
"I don't think anybody can stay with me, but it's about making the right reads, the right plays," Young told Pacers.com's Mark Montieth prior to the start of the season. "Just play the game, don't be stuck, or play like a robot..."
Whether he can convince the Pacers this summer that they don't need to retain, or search for the next, Ty Lawson remains to be seen. Still, Joe Young's unintimidated play during the 2015-16 season proves that containing the fires of over-confidence is preferable to needing to ignite a competitive flame.