Thaddeus Young’s defense can be somewhat of a mixed bag, especially when forced to make split-second reads away from the ball. Sometimes, he becomes so preoccupied with strong side pick and roll action that he’ll unnecessarily join one or more of his teammates in bumping the screener from his spot, thereby leaving his own man unattended behind the arc. On other occasions, almost like a moth to the flame, he’ll follow ball-handlers down the rabbit hole of the lane even when Myles Turner is already well-positioned to lie in wait.
However, on nights when making life tough on an elite offensive weapon demands that he steady the focus of his activity level and lateral quickness on a singular mission, he can be special.
That’s what happened last night when Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo produced only 11 points and one assist on the 45 energy-draining possessions he spent being harassed by Young.
Here’s a closer look at how the lefty power forward managed to make it more of a challenge for the Greek Freak to dominate without a jump shot.
He kept his hands active, but he restrained himself from gambling
Averaging 1.6 steals per game while only being outhustled for deflections by Paul George and Robert Covington, Young’s quick hands can at times be credited not only for cutting an opponent’s possession short of a shot attempt but also creating an easy transition opportunity for himself or his teammates.
Here, at the exact moment when the lanky stat sheet stuffer begins his devastating descent toward the rim, the 10-year veteran swiftly pokes the ball free from the control of Antetokounmpo’s sprawling arms.
Young doesn’t recover the loose ball, but his inside arm does prevent John Henson from being able to throw it back to Milwaukee’s top scoring threat at the end of the shot clock.
Forced to regroup on the fly, Jason Terry ends up whiffing on a lay-up off a last-ditch dribble hand-off from Henson as the buzzer sounds.
He stayed solid, even when forced to react to multiple evasive maneuvers
When defenders give Giannis room to shoot, he typically uses that space to deftly hop, bound, and jump down the lane like a competitor in the triple jump.
Against Thad, however, many of his attempts to free himself like a gazelle from the hunter were met with consistent resistance.
Whenever he took a diagonal side-step to the right, Thad was there.
When he tried to shake him with a long, swinging stride in the opposite direction, Thad was still there.
Beyond stretching the length and breadth of his undersized frame to the brink of its limits, the 29-year-old also put up a fight against Antetokounmpo’s killer spin move as well as an array of counters.
Because of his physical attributes and seemingly infinite reach, Giannis is near to impossible to trap.
So, after forcing him baseline with help from Bojan Bogdanovic and allowing him to escape with a reverse dribble, Thad has to get low and wide to take away his ability to turn the rest of the way over his left shoulder.
Using yet another reverse dribble to spin to his right, Young stays glued to his hip.
With nowhere left to go once Bogdanovic scurries across the lane to double, Giannis is forced to pick up his dribble. At long last, the undersized power forward’s multiple defensive efforts succeed at forcing someone else to score.
That’s the definition of stick-to-itiveness.
He made long twos seem enticing
Antetokounmpo is only shooting 29.8 percent from three and 34.0 percent from mid-range, but after getting hit with multiple brick walls — sometimes on the same possession, as was the case on the two previously mentioned examples — it’s no wonder that he opted to settle for a few of these.
He got some help
Because Cory Joseph is so hard to knockoff screens (notice, below, how he gets his leg in front of Eric Bledsoe and guides him inside the three-point line), Thad didn’t get stuck in many two-on-one defensive situations.
Rather, with Young denying the passing lane to Antetokounmpo rolling to the basket, Bledsoe is forced to throw the ball back to Jabari Parker at the top of the key to avoid committing a turnover after having already left his feet.
And, on this possession, when Indiana’s do-everything player was at the Greek Freak’s mercy, Myles Turner came through with the strip as the second-line of defense.
He didn’t do it alone, but the war of attrition he waged in this particular contest against Antetokounmpo not only contributed to his team’s ability to seize advantage and secure the tiebreaker over Milwaukee, it provided a glimpse into what he’s capable of accomplishing as a one-on-one defender in a playoff-like atmosphere when his off-ball coverage isn’t allowed to matter.