The comparisons were inevitable, and are not entirely without merit. Trae Young’s game is built on breaking down the first defender he faces off the dribble and trades on the ever-present threat that he’ll pop off a three-pointer anywhere inside his own end of the court, which is to say that he’s the same type of weapon as Steph Curry, if not yet quite the same caliber one. Both men are on the shorter side, and neither is a particularly explosive leaper. Every Young scouting report mentioned Curry, as well as Steve Nash, who stood in Curry’s place back when Curry was in Young’s position. Atlanta GM Travis Schlenk is a former Warriors exec who is clearly trying to replicate what was built in Oakland. The team has made Young the centerpiece of that effort.
But Trae Young is not Steph Curry, and for all the legitimate similarities between the two, it would be unwise and unfair to expect him to be. Unleashing a couple threes from 30-plus feet out doesn’t automatically put a player on the same developmental track as the greatest shooter of this era. Young is very much still figuring things out, and the Hawks are happy to let him learn on the job. Last night’s meeting of the two guards showed both how different Curry and Young are, and how far Young has to go before he can make the type of impact that Curry has made. That’s a high bar, of course, and the game also showed the kind of impact Young might yet make, even as a different kind of player.
In his second game back from a small injury, Curry picked up right back where he left off, cashing in 17 shots for 30 points. He dropped 18 in the first quarter, outscoring the Hawks on his own in the process. Curry has now outscored an opponent by himself in a quarter 11 times in the last five years, the most of any player in that span. Klay Thompson is second with eight. The Warriors have a lot of good players.
But of course there’s only one Steph. I would like to single out this three in particular.
Like Thompson, Curry’s off-ball movement is a vastly underrated part of his game. Curry got this wide-open three instead of the contested looks he got earlier through his sheer force of motion. Young has pretty much always played with the ball in his hands, and only 11 percent of his field goal attempts are catch-and-shoot opportunities; a whopping 63 percent of his shots after three or more dribbles. The plurality of Curry’s shots come after zero dribbles, which is part of why he’s always shot a significantly better percentage than Young even did in college.
Young is having a weird statistical rookie year, mostly because this isn’t a real season for the Hawks. He is 442nd out of 442 qualified players in ESPN’s defensive real plus-minus and 440th in total RPM. Young’s job is to go out there, try shit, and then see what works and what to prune. Though he has a gaudy 19.3 turnover percentage, he’s also already shown himself to be a truly gifted passer. As Giri noted in October, this is what sets him apart, and while Young does sling longballs at a startling volume, he is a playmaker first and a scorer second. He’s just a little shorter than Curry and he’s not nearly the shooter Curry is, but he might be a better passer.
For his part, Curry is tired of being asked about the comparison. He knows Young is a different player, and an unformed one at that.
Trae Young will figure it out, and he will become something different, and then he will be whatever type of player that is. That’s fine, and there is reason to believe it could work out very well both for him and his team. As the NBA continues to remake itself in Curry’s image, more players will continue to draw comparisons to him, and therefore will get the opportunity to show exactly what makes Curry so unique. One Steph Curry is enough; given that there won’t be another, just having one feels like a stroke of luck. Who knows, maybe someday Trae Young will have to explain why everyone should stop asking him about a diminutive dribbling wizard rocketing up 2027 NBA Draft boards.
Correction: Curry’s game against the Hawks was his second game back from injury, not his first.