A little over two weeks ago, something happened. There was a shift. Thaddeus Young was on pace for the worst season of his career when, all of a sudden, he was in midst of one of the best stretches of his career as a Pacer.
Throughout the first 24 games of the season Young was putting up numbers that projected a career low in points per game (9.9), three point percentage (.160), free throw percentage (.500) and true shooting percentage (.505). At this point it looked like Young’s 12 seasons of basketball were weighing on him. He might have lost his touch; for the first time since playing for Brooklyn, he was shooting below 60 percent from inside five feet and was an abysmal 2-17 from the corner three.
But that all changed in Orlando.
The 6’9’’ Georgia Tech product had a modest 14 points in the Sunshine State but after going 2-2 from three, suddenly everything opened up. Over the next 10 games he would score double-digit points in every game -- his second-longest stretch as a Pacer -- while averaging 16.4 points and 7.9 rebounds per game with a shooting split of .528/.348/.727.
Basketball-reference has a stat called “Game Score,” which factors in a bunch of different metrics; although it isn’t a great indicator for ranking players, it does a good job of showing how well someone is playing in individual games. In Young’s case, until Sunday’s game against the Wizards he had nine straight games where his game score has been above 10, which they consider to be above average. That game score is tied for the third-longest streak of Young’s career and his longest as a Pacer. (He’s never had a streak longer than six while in a Pacer uniform.)
Over the last 10 games Young has thrived on second chance points, having increased them from 2.1 per game to 3.2, most of which come from tip-ins. On top of that, he’s increased his offensive rebounds from 1.9 per game in the first 24 games to 3.0.
On both shots Young is the only Pacer to attempt to crash the boards. He’s able to catch both teams off guard, and when combined with good timing, a nearly 7-foot wingspan and a little luck, he’s able to score.
The assisted shot in the paint
The other way Young has increased his offensive output is with points in the paint. Over the last 10 games he’s up to 11.4 -- nearly 40 percent higher than the 8.3 points he was averaging in the first 24 games.
In the past Young has been known to push his way to rim, sort of like a bowling ball rolling down a hill, only to come up short on an off-balance floater. Instead, during his hot streak, Young has started to become a reliable roller in the pick and roll, especially with Oladipo.
What does this all mean?
The only thing I can say is that the way Young is playing makes him less expendable than it seemed before the season started. His free agency was looming and, from the outside, he didn’t seem to be happy with how team negotiations went last summer. Add to that the suggested lack of excitement for his return on the team’s side, and it felt like the Pacers and Young could be heading towards a parting of ways in summer 2019.
Lately though, even with him on the other side of 30, the way Young has been playing makes it almost impossible to tell just what will happen. The lingering, soft-spoken question is whether his play as of late is sustainable, or if it’s just minor success in an otherwise down season. I can tell you this: When the Pacers traded the Caris Levert pick for Young, these last 10 games have been the best version of what the team could have expected.