Everyone loves an underdog. My favorite underdogs come in the form of second-round draft picks. They are the third wheel to the lovefest that fans have with the team’s first round draft pick. They have to fight for every minute on the court and are often relegated to the D-League. That’s part of the reason I love it when a second round pick succeeds, they’ve earned it and they deserve it. It’s why I had a love affair with Lance Stephenson back when he was crossing people and bricking jumpers in meaningless games while everyone else was resting. It’s why I had hope that AJ Price would turn into a competent guard and why I desperately wanted Orlando Johnson to get more playing time. These feelings aren’t rational, they are based on any sort of deep statistical analysis or something I see in their game. They come from my hope and desire for the little guy to succeed.
Which brings us to Joe Young, last year’s second round draft pick from Oregon and Paul George’s partner in Gatorade commercials. My first thought after the Pacers drafted was "Ooooh a score first player" this was something I didn’t think Larry Bird was ever going to draft in my lifetime. With that I began the process of talking myself into Joe Young. Undersized? Yes. Little older than you want? Probably. Still though, you don’t average over 20 points per game in college without talent. Then Young led the Orlando Summer League in scoring averaging 22.5 points while shooting 51% from the field and 45% from deep. Training camp came and went with most of the talk centered around the comeback of Paul George, the integration of Monta Ellis, and expectations for Myles Turner. The preseason gave us our first glance of Young in a true NBA game setting. He struggled shooting topping 40% from the field just twice in six tries, and a disastrous 18% from three point land. There were flashes though. He passed the ball well enough and there was a certain excitement to the way he played.
Then the regular season started and Young found himself on the bench getting a minute here and a minute there. He really was in no man’s land. He rarely saw action on the court and he was never optioned down to the D-League where he could hone his skills. Rough spot. Then during a slog of games in January George Hill was absent for personal reasons and Rodney Stuckey was out with an injury and suddenly Young found himself playing big minutes, and he didn’t disappoint. Against the Nuggets he dropped 15 points and dished 7 assists then against the Warriors he scored 16 points and had 8 assists. Hill came back though and Young was once again relegated to the bench. To be fair there were times when Young got some decent minutes and was inconsistent with his scoring. Going through those game logs you see 1-8 or 1-6 games which isn’t great, but you would expect those games especially from the rookie. At least Young has full confidence in himself to keep shooting even when the shots aren’t falling.
We don’t know who the Pacers are going to draft or sign in free agency. George Hill probably needs to transition to being a full time shooting guard who can run the offense short stints. Monta Ellis needs to step up or McMillan should think about bringing him off the bench. A stretch four is probably something on everybody’s wish list. A point guard is a need, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t already a good one sitting on the bench. This year I would love to see McMillan give Young a chance to get some quality minutes especially early in the season. Whatever your opinions of Hill and Ellis are both of them are climbing in age and the Pacers need some youth in that backcourt, and there’s a 23 year old Oregon product who deserves a look.