Pressed into service following the dismal announcements that Darren Collison would need to undergo arthroscopic surgery and Victor Oladipo would be out due to illness, Joe Young scored 17 points — including a career-best five three-pointers — in what was only his fourth game this season wherein he logged more than 20 minutes of action.
“I thought he did a good job,” Nate McMillan said of Young’s performance. “We wanted to get some ball movement and get some pressure on the ball, so we changed the lineup to try to get him on the ball. I thought he came in and did a nice job for us — bringing some energy, making some shots, and defending.”
More impressive than his counting stats in that particular contest, however, is the way in which he’s beginning to resist the temptation to try to do too much with greater opportunity.
For the first 30 games of the season, the 25-year-old guard used an absurd 22.3 percent of Indiana’s possessions during the 88 minutes he was on the floor, a mark which seemed to reflect his tendency to take it upon himself to get buckets in garbage time. Since then, he’s made appearances in 23 of 25 games, for a total of 270 minutes, and that number has dropped to a more judicious 16.4 percent.
Rather than monopolizing the ball and searching for his own shot now that he’s carved out a spot in the rotation, Young’s average number of touches are up, but his average seconds per touch and average dribbles per touch are down.
One reason for this evolution is that he’s spending a higher percentage of his limited time spotting-up as opposed to making reads off the bounce.
“Don’t think that Joe Young isn’t a potential NBA player,” Kevin Pritchard cautioned over the summer while speaking on 1070 The Fan’s The Dan Dakich Show. “Specifically, what Joe does very well is shoot the ball. By bringing in Lance, we can get Joe off the ball and off making decisions...”
Last season, Young’s smaller frame and loose handle sometimes made it a challenge for him to get where he wanted to go when his speed failed him, and the amount of clock it took him to breakdown his defender seemed to feed his long-standing struggle to find the right balance between self-belief and overcompensation.
For instance, given that Paul George was in the game and there was less than five seconds to play at the end of this quarter, it probably would’ve been best to get the team’s franchise player the ball rather than to force a low-percentage, turnaround jump shot.
Against the Wizards, he had one possession where he made the ill-advised decision to go 1-on-4 and pull-up from 19 feet in transition, but that was the exception rather the rule.
Instead, he provided a scoring punch off the bench by standing at the proper angle and hitting the open shot whenever one of his teammates forced the defense to commit.
For this reason, it might be worth it to consider having Cory Joseph takeover as the starting point guard until Collison returns so that Stephenson can return to his normal sixth-man role with Young by his side. Overall, Victor Oladipo, Bojan Bogdanovic, Thaddeus Young, and Myles Turner have outscored opponents by 12.6 points per 100 possessions when Joseph is on the floor with them.
There’s been a premium placed on keeping Joseph and Stephenson together off the bench, but the team’s cumulative plus-minus numbers seem to suggest the need for at least modest redistribution of minutes.
In fact, minimum 40 minutes played, the only lineups which include both players that are outscoring opponents per 100 possessions are those with three guards.
The only outlier within those parameters is when Joseph, Oladipo, and Stephenson have been tethered to the struggles of Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis to defend in space.
Some of this might be a product of Joseph and Stephenson playing most of their minutes with bench lineups that have labored to get stops, but it’s nonetheless glaring.
As for Joe, by comparison to his 2016-17 campaign, the frequency by which he’s handling the ball out of the pick and roll has been cut in half, but his effective field goal percentage has climbed from 39.6 percent to 53.0 percent, albeit in teensy sample size.
Put simply, he’s shooting the ball well in short bursts off the bench while making it his mission to irritate his man on the other end of the floor.
Those efforts have been met with mixed results. Sometimes, he manages to pester the Celtics into botching a simple inbounds pass, or he ends up goading Ramon Sessions into committing an offensive foul. On other occasions, he picks up Goran Dragic full court only to allow the hard-nosed guard to drive all the way to the rim with his left hand.
When he finds the happy middle between those two extremes, he compensates for his lack of size by harassing the point of attack and keeping his head on a swivel to prevent his man from getting the ball back, as was the case on this possession against Washington’s Tomas Satoransky.
“We feel good about Joe,” Pritchard confirmed prior to the start of the season. “We really do.”
If he can continue to play like he did against the Wizards, as an efficient stop-release rather than a shot-hunting point guard, they have reason to.