“Retirement,” Young says with a laugh. “I think that’s what it’s gonna take.”
The two electric guards have been tied to each other since the Atlanta Hawks and Dallas Mavericks pulled off a trade on draft night in 2018, when Atlanta sent the No. 3 overall pick to Dallas in exchange for the No. 5 pick and a future first-rounder (that pick would become Cam Reddish).
“We’re going to be compared throughout our whole careers,” Young says on Doncic. “That’s fine, that’s what it’s going to be — it happened on draft night, and I don’t think it’ll stop until we’re both retired.”
The Hawks’ second-year guard, who is averaging 28.2 points and 8.3 assists, sat down with ESPN’s Royce Young to discuss the Doncic comparisons, his love for the deep 3-pointer and Atlanta’s rough 5-16 start to the season.
Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
‘Trae Young vs. Luka Doncic’ has become so much of the conversation around your early career. Does it bother you that people can’t seem to separate you two guys because of what happened on draft night?
Trae Young: Yeah. For me, it bothers me — I just love playing basketball, I know he does. So it bothers me because it’s annoying just getting asked about it all the time. But I know it comes with it. I didn’t ask for it to happen, but it happened. … It’s two totally different situations, two totally different players. He’s playing well, I’m playing well. Just let it be.
Is that what your tweet ‘Apples and oranges’ was referencing?
TY: Umm, possibly. Possibly (laughs). It’s apples and oranges for sure.
Luka is an MVP candidate right now. Is there a part of you that wants to show that the Hawks made the right decision?
TY: Obviously there’s a little bit of motivation there — I have a lot of different thoughts and motivations, so that’s a little bit of it. I think both teams did what’s best for them. I think what we have going on: the rebuilding process, getting a lot of young guys and trying to build that way, build this city up, build the culture we have. It’s great, it’s growing. We have a lot of fans here that are supporting us.
Obviously in Dallas, they’re more in a win-now situation: going and getting all those free agents, getting Kristaps [Porzingis], Tim [Hardaway Jr.], Seth [Curry], They got a lot of guys that are veterans in this league. Two totally different situations.
The Hawks are off to a slow start, but for you personally it’s been a pretty significant step forward. How do you separate your personal growth as a player, which has been obviously fantastic — you’re fifth in the league in scoring — but the team has not been as successful?
TY: Yeah. It’s tough. For me, I’m all about the team. I’m all about winning. I’ve grown up learning and knowing that winning takes care of everything else. For me, it’s kind of a weird feeling. I’m playing really well individually, but at the same time, we’re not winning as many games as I’ve wanted to. It’s a balance of feeling good, but also feeling bad. I want to win. I want to win. And I know that’s going to take care of everything else.
I think it’s fair to say that your career got off to a bit of a rocky start. Summer league and your first month was a little bumpy. What was the biggest factor in you turning the corner?
TY: I think seeing players and seeing teams for a second and third time. … I started to get more comfortable. Coming into the league I was still too much of a fan of the players I was going against. And just from idolizing them growing up or knowing them as a kid, I think I had to get out of being a fan of these players I’m going against and get back to being a competitor. And the game started slowing down as time went on. Obviously, I play the point guard position, the toughest position in the league, so it’s something you have to have as the point guard … the mentality of competing at a high level. So once I figured that out, I started playing a lot better.
Was there a moment when you thought, ‘Maybe I’m not going to be the same type of player?’ The guy who can go out and get 35 or 40. Maybe I need to adjust.
TY: A lot of people asked me that when I was going through that stretch — not shooting the ball well and not playing well. To be honest, I didn’t change my mindset. I always thought it was going to turn eventually. And what helped me was the people around me; my family, the people in my inner circle really gave me a lot of confidence … really kept pushing me. My teammates … they just told me to keep going. For me, I never really lacked confidence and I never really thought that anything would be different in my mind, because I worked so hard. And I know it’s going to eventually pay off.
Did you have a game last year where it was like ‘OK, I’m all right’? Was there a game when it was like, ‘I’m still the same guy’?
TY: Yeah. That third game. We played Cleveland in Cleveland. That was the first game I had 35 and 10. Since then, I knew I had it. I had some rough stretches after that, but I knew I could do it. Third game in, on a road game, I knew I was capable of doing it.
Your tweet: ‘Your apology needs to be as loud as the disrespect was.’ It has 35,000 retweets. You have pinned at the top of your page. Where did that come from? What were you trying to say? And what do you want people to take from that?
TY: People know. They can read between the lines. They understand what I meant by that. People who have followed me throughout high school, college and now in the NBA know the ups and downs from what people have said or what I have gone through. People who know my story, know what I meant by that tweet. I think the tweet speaks for itself. But for me, after a statement win [over Denver], an emotional win, I just felt like I wanted to say that. But I’m still working. Still going.
Has anybody actually apologized?
TY: I’ve gotten a few tweets. It was a topic the next day on a lot of channels. Some people apologized.
The deep 3 has changed the way the NBA is played. How has being able to extend a defense out to 30, 35 feet change the way you guys can play offense?
TY: If you look at the teams that have players that can shoot those deep 3s, I think those tend to be the better offenses in the league. If you look at the Warriors, with the spacing that they had because you have to guard from so far out, it opens up driving lanes, cuts and things like that. It opens up a lot when you can shoot that far — defenses have to pick you up higher up.
When you come to Atlanta, coach Lloyd Pierce obviously knows, ‘This is what Trae does.’ There is probably not a lot of conversation about, ‘Don’t shoot those.’ There’s a fine line between trying to improve your game without changing the way you play.
TY: There’s been times in meetings and film sessions — [we’ll see] an opportunity where I can maybe get a catch-and-shoot a little closer to the [3-point] line, a closer shot or a better shot. So yeah, there are definitely times when I can avoid shooting a deep 3 and scoot in a little bit. But there’s also times a feel [the deep 3] is necessary and times when I feel like I’m open and shoot it and make it.
At what age were you when coaches quit saying, ‘Stop taking those’? If you’re in eighth grade are you pulling up from 28, 30 feet?
TY: Yeah (laughs) that’s what’s crazy. I’ve been blessed with coaches that have given me a lot of freedom going back to middle school, high school, and now coach [Pierce] — coaches that have let me play my style of game and giving me a lot of freedom within the offense. Yeah, I’ve always been able to shoot those deep 3s, but also I’ve made a couple too.