Like the moon in the daytime, Thaddeus Young was an inconspicuous stabilizer.
“If you took Thad and (looked) at his points and rebounds and all of that, you’d say he’s a pretty good player,” Pritchard said of the lefty power forward’s quiet impact at the team’s end-of-season press conference. “But, then, when you’re around him and (see) what he did with his leadership this year and made sure we stayed together — he brings an inordinate amount of value.”
From disrupting passing lanes and staying in front of elite scorers to lurking with purpose around the basket for easy points, the soon-to-be 30-year-old provided balance on both ends of the floor by reliably filling the gaps.
How did Thaddeus Young impress?
With a definite knack for being able to apparate to the spots on the floor where his teammates needed him most, the Pacers only called two plays for the improvisational forward. Instead, he routinely found ways to maintain the flow of Indiana’s pick-and-roll heavy offense by operating as a secondary option alongside the baseline.
Check out this possession against the New York Knicks, when Young scored 20 points on 9-of-11 field goal attempts. As Darren Collison worked the two-man game with Myles Turner, the 11-year veteran lied in wait for the exact moment when his man was forced to dash across the lane to stop the ball.
As soon as Michael Beasley made his move, Thad took swift advantage of the crevice in the defense by flashing into the mid-paint and converting the open two.
He also routinely made himself available as a convenient drop-off spot whenever opponents collapsed on Domantas Sabonis rolling to the rim.
Yet, as much as his slinky stealthiness allowed him to serve as a quick spritz of non-stick spray on offense, it also enabled him to transform into moldable caulk on defense.
He put the clamps on Kevin Love, who went 12-of-43 from the field and tallied 12 turnovers on the 247 possessions in which Young was his primary defender in the first-round of the playoffs, and his mobility allowed Myles Turner to hide out on Jeff Green or roam off non-screening shooters.
Here, because of Young’s capability to seamlessly pre-switch the side pick-and-roll action between LeBron and Love, Indiana’s starting center was available to sag into the paint and position himself to help when the latter of the two cut behind Bogdanovic to the rim.
Along with his malleability, Young finished the regular season averaging 1.7 steals while ranking among the top-five in deflections, which means his quick hands could 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.
Against the Bucks, when Giannis Antetokounmpo began his devastating descent toward the rim, the 10-year veteran swiftly poked the ball free from the lanky stat stuffer’s sprawling arms.
He didn’t recover the loose ball, but his inside arm prevented Milwaukee’s most formidable scoring threat from being able to get the ball back with the shot clock winding down.
Capable of waging a war of attrition with his defensive versatility while being satisfied with re-purposing leftovers on the other end of the floor, Thaddeus Young was a significant portion of the difference between the Pacers and Raptors against the Cavaliers.
How did Thaddeus Young disappoint?
Sometimes, he would become so preoccupied with strong side pick-and-roll action that he would either get lulled to sleep off-ball or end up unnecessarily joining one or more of his teammates in bumping the screener from his spot, thereby leaving his own man unattended behind the arc.
However, given the slew of other ways in which he provided utility on that side of the ball, his shooting was arguably a more significant limitation.
“If you had a real shooting four, a real stretch-four to put out there with the same team,” Pritchard said of being able to surround Oladipo with shooters at the end of games when he’s functioning like the point guard, while making mention of the way in which Houston spreads the floor around James Harden with players who can guard their position and hit shots. “It’s a tough defend.”
Following the All-Star break, Young shot a woeful 14-of-62 outside the paint, which meant the opportunity was there for opponents to crowd Victor Oladipo on late-game isolation plays.
“If you look at Thad,” Pritchard explained. “He can make some shots, but that’s not his thing.”
It’s not, but his shooting can’t be subtracted from those scenarios without also subtracting his defense.
What’s next for Thaddeus Young?
He has until the end of June to decide whether he wants to exercise his nearly $14 million player option, or if he would prefer to search for more guaranteed contract years.
If the business side fails to pan out, the impact of his inconspicuous stabilization and the way in which he filled the gaps will likely suddenly become hard to ignore.