Following Oklahoma’s huge victory over Kansas on Tuesday, it appears Trae Young might be a little more Kobe Bryant than Steph Curry.
No, this is not an attempt for yet another hyperbolic player-on-player comparison. Instead, we’re talking about mentalities. Here being, I suppose, the famed Mamba Mentality.
Prior to the Sooners doing battle with the Jayhawks on Tuesday night, Young had to rest in the shadows, hearing the nation’s most nefarious nitpicking experts discuss his shot selection, shot volume and turnover issues.
The turnover issue can easily be debunked, as Young has the ball in his hands over 40 percent of the time when the Sooners are on offense. Given how reliant upon his ball-handling and passing OU happens to be, there will be a natural higher rate of turnovers coming from his fingertips.
As for everything else, he heard those gripes and was having none of it.
On Monday, Young more than hinted that his game would look different come Tuesday’s huge Big 12 game.
“I’m gonna play a little different from now on,” Young said to ESPN. “Nothing major. I mean, we’re what … 14-4? That’s not a bad record. I’m just gonna play a little different. There were some reads I could have made that I didn’t make.”
In turn, especially in the first-half against the Jayhawks, what a basketball loving nation received was a more collected, cool and purposely passive Trae Young.
Over the course of the first 20 minutes of the game, Young took season-lows in shot attempts from both the floor and beyond the arc. He only took four from the field, with zero attempts from distance happening. This from a guy who averages over 10 3-point attempts per game.
Despite the passiveness from Young, the presumed underdogs were still in the game with the Big 12’s most consistent, dominating power.
Don’t worry counting-stat aficionados, he would inevitably get his. Young finished the game, not only helping Oklahoma upset Kansas, but finishing with 26 points on 7-of-9 shooting from the field, including 2-of-3 on 3-pointers, and playing all 40 minutes. He added 9 assists, 4 rebounds and 5 turnovers to his final box-score.
As importantly, he highlighted and provided confidence to his presumed “lesser-than” teammates.
Brady Manek, an underappreciated freshman with a huge future, finished with 14 points and 7 rebounds; OU’s non-Trae Young guard, Christian James, aided the effort with 15 points of his own; and the rest of the Oklahoma roster chipped in as best as they could.
This is incredibly important. If Oklahoma has Final Four dreams, which it should, the Sooners will need players outside of Young to help carry the load. Guys like Manek, who could very well end up being one of the better, yet unheralded freshman in the entire country.
Even if you are one to buy-in on the idea that Young is the best freshman since Michael Beasley, or the most prolific guard since Chris Jackson (Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf) who averaged 30.2 points per game as a freshman for LSU in 1988, it still takes a team to go dancing deep in the month of March.
Young, historically prolific or not, might have a bad game every once in a blue moon. It happens, to everyone, even Michael Jordan during his Chicago Bulls heyday. With the NCAA Tournament being purposely designed as a single-game elimination event, resulting in anarchy happening more often than the best team winning, Oklahoma can’t just hope Young wills the team to victory after victory after victory, without expecting him to have legitimate help from his teammates.
Those teammates, however, can’t grow into that role unless Young’s game allows it to do so.
This is why his performance, while seeming somewhat scripted, on Tuesday is important. In fact, since it was scripted, it makes it all the better, as Young’s ability to score, coupled with his unselfishness, will go a long way in making the Sooners a more complete team.
Aside: I can’t wait for March to it. That way, when casual hoop-hears arrive, they find out Trae Young has an incy bit of Mike Tyson in his voice.
Young took a note out of the Kobe Bryant playbook. Jelly Bean Jr., who was known as a bit of a volume-shooter in his heyday, would sometimes hear the critics calling him a ball hog, ball-stopper, offensive dead spot, or worse. Often, his next game out, usually following a 25-plus shot attempt game and some blow back from fans/media, would see Bryant purposely go out of his way to not shoot.
Bryant was sending a message to those people.
After admitting he wanted to prove he could “manage a game,” Young said:
“I was just showing what I’ve been doing all year, except last week,” said Young. “Just showing that I can manage the game and get my teammates involved and get them involved early. And they did a great job executing.”
Kansas coach Bill Self, who said he thought his players did a good job containing Young relative to his abilities, was in awe over how the guard handled himself.
“Kid played great,” Self said. “He got 26 points on nine shots. He was very under control and seemed to make the vast majority of right plays for his team.”
That last part, from both Self and Young, are the most important. Trae Young, previously most known for scoring ALL OF THE POINTS, is making sure he’s showing how much he values his teammates via trusting them enough to carry the point-scoring-burden.
This might not last all season. Yet, this instilling of — even if forced — team play, at the expense of his own gaudy stat-line, should pay off down the road, as his teammates are gaining experience and proving to opponents that they are also not to be trifled with.
From here on out, it won’t be “Trae Young and them boys.” It will be Oklahoma, led by Trae Young, looking like one of the best teams in the nation.