SALT LAKE CITY — Trae Young did not enter the draft NBA ready. He needs space to make mistakes and learn. He can shoot the rock, but the adjustment to the speed and length of the NBA — and how to get his dangerous shot off in that environment — is going to take some time. Atlanta, both as a fanbase and as a rebuilding team, will give him that space. They’re not going to kill Young and his confidence when his shot is off for a night.
Which is good, because in his debut his shot was off.
Way off. Airball off.
Young missed his first 10 shots, including going 0-of-7 from three with a couple of airballs, in his Summer League debut in Utah Monday night, before finishing the game 4-of-20 with 16 points (1-of-11 from three).
And that didn’t bother anybody on the Hawks.
“I don’t know if you guys expected that, but I expected that,” Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce said (the new head coach is taking on Summer League duties for a year). “That’s the beauty of having young guys, I just told them in the locker room, I said ‘I’ve done this 11 years now, you come out for your first Summer League game and everybody thinks it’s going to be a home run, a success. Then you see I’ve got a lot of work to do.’”
Through it all, Pierce told him to just keep shooting. Be himself.
“I’m excited for Trae, he got 20 shots up. He can get his shot off,” Pierce said. “He’s gonna make a lot of shots, we’re going to be fine.”
“I definitely didn’t want this, but overall it’s a process,” Young said after the game. “This is just the first one of Summer League, I definitely felt a lot more comfortable in the second half. I guess I can just carry that over to tomorrow, getting better each and every day.”
Young’s slow start was a stark contrast to the No. 4 pick Jaren Jackson Jr. of the Grizzlies, who drained two threes in the first 50-seconds on pick-and-pops. He showed it all — a smooth jumper, handles and ability to score inside — on his way to dropping 29 points and hitting 8-of-13 from three in that same game. Jackson also blocked two shots at the rim.
After the game, Jackson was dancing down the corridor out to the bus, belting out some T.I. for all to hear. During the game, he was shimmying on the court.
“I like shooting threes,” Jackson said after the game. “When you’re open, you got to take it. There’s 24 seconds on the clock, you may not get a better shot sometimes. Coach told me, ‘If I get a good look, just shoot it.’”
He did and it was an impressive performance for the former Michigan State star some scouts thought was the big who best fit the modern NBA game in this draft. But it was just one game.
Which is what Young was saying.
“My shot’s going to fall, my shots going to fall eventually,” Young said. “I’m not too worried about it. It’s just one game.”
Young had a better second half and had his moments.
What Pierce wanted to see was getting Young into more playmaking, for him to be a point guard, and from there, his shot will be in the flow of the game.
“We practiced for four days, and the biggest thing his teammates enjoyed with Trae is he’s just finding them, on the pick and roll, rolling to the basket, he found guys behind the three-point line,” Pierce said. “That’s his strength, that’s going to be his blueprint, and we just couldn’t get him in enough pick-and-rolls early on.”
They will try that in Game 2. It’s just Summer League, and it’s all going to take some time.
• Two other guys stood out in this first game. For the Grizzlies, second-round pick Jevon Carter was the guy locking up Young early and causing problems. He is tenacious on defense, has a great motor, and showed potential. Can he do it against the quicker point guards of a regular NBA game remains to be seen, but there was promise there.
For the Hawks, No. 30 pick Omari Spellman moved well, had some buckets (11 points), a couple of blocks, and just seemed to make smart plays. How much time he’s going to get behind John Collins — who was efficient and didn’t get fed the rock enough — is a question for another day. But it was a good debut.