Thaddeus Young Is Exactly What The Indiana Pacers Need

The Indiana Pacers had a goal of using a “pace-and-space” offensive philosophy last season. It all began with the thought of using Paul George at the power forward position to create matchup problems and to pull a defender away from the paint. After three games, it did not work out. With Paul George being eliminated from consideration to play the power forward position, Indiana wanted to maintain their perimeter-oriented approach at the power forward position by starting C.J. Miles. That worked out well until C.J. Miles was physically exhausted from the dirty work that comes with the job. That left Indiana with no choice but to resort back to playing with a traditional two big man lineup.

Indiana experimented with Jordan Hill, Lavoy Allen, and eventually Myles Turner as starters at the power forward position in traditional lineups. None of these players could provide a full package, which is why the Pacers had no choice but to keep switching it up. Indiana went back to a small-ball style by starting Solomon Hill at power forward for a few games at the end of the season. But Indiana resorted back to a traditional lineup with Lavoy Allen as their starter for the first three playoff games against the Toronto Raptors. Myles Turner ended up starting the final four games of that series at the power forward position.

In other words, the Indiana Pacers had a massive mess at the power forward position with no legitimate full-time solution. Now, the Pacers have Thaddeus Young as their starting power forward, and he is ideal for many reasons. Thaddeus Young averaged 33 minutes, 15.1 points, 9 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.5 steals, 0.5 blocks, and 1.9 turnovers during the 2015-16 season. Thaddeus Young 51.4 percent from the field, 52.3 percent on 2-point field goals, 23.3 percent on 3-point field goals, and 64.4 percent on free throws. There are not many forwards in the NBA that managed to have the same level of production that Thaddeus Young did last season.

Thaddeus Young, Paul Millsap, and DeMarcus Cousins were the only players in the NBA to average at least 15 points, 9 rebounds, and 1.5 steals during the 2015-16 season. That statistic portrays the unmatched versatility that Thaddeus Young brings to the game. For reference, Thaddeus Young would have ranked second in points, first in rebounds, and third in steals with those numbers on the Indiana Pacers last season. Clark Kellogg (1982-84) is the only player in Pacers history to average at least 15 points, 9 rebounds, and 1.5 steals in a season. Thaddeus Young is a rare collection of versatility that hasn’t been seen in the Pacers organization since Clark Kellogg.

It is a significant accomplishment to be able to average at least 15 points and 9 rebounds in a season, only eight players accomplished in 2015-16; DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis, Andre Drummond, Pau Gasol, Kevin Love, Paul Millsap, Karl Anthony-Towns, and Thaddeus Young. It’s important to note that Paul Millsap, Kevin Love, and Thaddeus Young were the only power forwards to accomplish this level of production last season. Clark Kellogg (1982-85), Jermaine O’Neal (2001-04), Detlef Schrempf (1991-93), and Herb Williams (1985-86) are the only players in Pacers history to average at least 15 points and 9 rebounds in a season.

That highlight reel shows that Thaddeus Young is a tremendous relief option on drives for a finish near the basket. Young is a crafty ball handler that can attack his man in space to penetrate the lane. It’s important to note how effective of a finisher Young is near the basket. If the basic straight up finish isn’t there, Young has a great ability to pivot and absorb contact to create a shot even when it doesn’t seem possible. Thaddeus Young has a nice floater and can generate offense from the post. With significantly better perimeter players, Young should be a scary threat in the pick-and-roll with his ability to roll hard to the basket, catch difficult passes, and finish near the basket.

Using Thaddeus Young in pick-and-rolls should provide Indiana plenty of offense. Young averaged 3.0 points as a roll man and shot 55.9 percent from the field on these attempts. Shots created by being a roll man in the pick-and-roll made up 18.1 percent of Thaddeus Young’s overall attempts. Cutting is another large aspect of Young’s game. Thaddeus Young averaged 2.8 points on shots created by cuts, and he shot 58.2 percent from the field on these attempts. Since 15.9 percent of Young’s attempts come from cuts, over a third of his overall shot attempts come from being a roll man in the pick-and-roll and a cutter.

Thaddeus Young averaged 1.3 points from putbacks and shot 48.9 percent from the field on these attempts, which made up 8.8 percent of his shot attempts. The final dirty work component is transition scoring. Young averaged 2.4 points in transition and shot 55.4 percent from the field on these attempts, and these shots made up 16.1 percent of his overall attempts. All of this means that 58.9 percent of Thaddeus Young’s shot attempts come from doing the small things. Post-ups were another critical area of Young’s game, he averaged 2.4 points and shot 50 percent from the field on these attempts. Thaddeus Young had 15.9 percent of his overall attempts come from post-ups.

Thaddeus Young Brooklyn Nets
[Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images]

Isolation wasn’t a big part of Thaddeus Young’s game last season. Young averaged 1.1 points and shot 41.6 percent on isolation attempts. Isolation attempts only made up 8.4 percent of Thaddeus Young’s overall shot attempts. There won’t be much need for Thaddeus Young to isolate with the Pacers because he can absolutely thrive doing the small things and produce high statistics. There will be plenty of cuts, putbacks, rolls off of picks, and transition attempts for Young, which all are already significant parts of his game and are all areas that he thrives. Thaddeus Young may not be an isolation focal point with the starting lineup, but he could certainly get his fair share of isolation touches in plug-and-play lineups throughout the game. Young is an asset as an isolation player so it’s important that he is being used to exploit favorable matchups.

Thaddeus Young has a valuable tool that usually separates good big men from others, the ability to find the open man when passing the ball. Young may have averaged only 1.8 assists last season, but he showed the ability to pass to the open man as opposed to taking bad shots when trying to create his own offense. Also, Thaddeus Young can make the extra pass in chain ball movement scenarios, which was something that really didn’t come from Jordan Hill or Lavoy Allen. Being able to set good screens and make quick passes will help Thaddeus Young be a valuable component to the Pacers half-court offense. Indiana has a few high-quality spot-up shooters and cutters, so making the right pass in a timely manner and setting screens to free up space is a valuable asset that Young brings to the table. It helps that Thaddeus Young is quick and can rebound on those created shot attempts too.

It’s important to note that Thaddeus Young is even capable of knocking down mid-range and perimeter jump shots, even off the dribble too. Young wasn’t that efficient of a jump shooter, but he has been working hard on this element of his game during the summer. With a center like Myles Turner that was deemed the team’s “best shooter” during last year’s training camp, there may not be a major need for Thaddeus Young to knock down jump shots. That creates a unique situation where Thaddeus Young can put his hard hat on and do the dirty work near the basket while Myles Turner is either spacing the floor, vacating the opposite weak-side, or is on the same side elbow when Thaddeus Young is near the block and vice versa. There is certainly a lot of options with this front court.

Thaddeus Young only averaged 1.1 points from spot-ups and shot 36.2 percent from the field on these attempts. However, spot-up shooting is such a tiny fragment of Young’s game, only 9.3 percent of his overall attempts came from spot-up jump shots. Thaddeus Young could certainly see these figures go up if that hard work that he put in during the off-season translates to games because he will have a collection of productive playmakers that can set him up for quality attempts. But, it may not be in the best interests of the team to have Young attempting jump shots away from the basket since he as it his best when he is posting up, rebounding, finishing near the hoop, setting screens, and driving the lane. But if jump shooting proves to be as big of an asset as it possibly could, then it certainly should be explored.

From a turnover forcing standpoint, Thaddeus Young was 1-of-7 forwards to average at least 1.5 steals last season; Trevor Ariza, Robert Covington, Jae Crowder, Paul George, Kawhi Leonard, Paul Millsap, and Thaddeus Young. There were only two real power forwards on that list, Young and Millsap. There were only 24 total players in the NBA that averaged at least 1.5 steals last season, Paul George, Monta Ellis, and Thaddeus Young were all among those players. An interesting component to this is the fact that no team had three players that managed to average at least 1.5 steals last year, which means that the Pacers could have one heck of a turnover forcing trio. That is a crucial element to an uptempo team, it really helps that Thaddeus Young can run the floor very well to finish and rebound on those open court possessions too.

Thaddeus Young Brooklyn Nets
[Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images]

Thaddeus Young has size to be able to defend and rebound against traditional power forwards while having the speed and skills to defend small-ball power forwards. The strengths that Young has on the defensive side of the ball will be amplified with the Pacers because he will finally be surrounded by good defensive players. Indiana may not have a bigger backcourt than they did last season, but they have a lot more speed at basically every position. This means that they will be able to cover ground and beat players to spots, trap ball handlers, jump the passing lanes, close out and contest jump shots, cover up cutters, and protect the rim. Indiana had a great defense last season, in fact, they ranked third in defensive rating, but they certainly had a few deficiencies. There is great potential if Indiana manages to work on the defensive side of the ball with their players as they usually do and Thaddeus Young is a crucial part of that.

The primary defensive deficiency that the Pacers had last season was a lack of speed at the power forward spot. Often times a small ball power forward would pull Indiana’s traditional power forwards away from the paint and ultimately take them away from help defense. Or, a small ball power forward would blow by one of Indiana’s traditional power forwards when they were defending in space. The pick-and-roll was a major problem too since Indiana had a small backcourt that couldn’t fight through screens, their traditional big men were too slow to recover to the roll man. Thaddeus Young registered a 0.6 defensive box plus-minus, so that’s a promising overall assessment of his defensive capabilities. Thaddeus Young’s speed, size, and defensive intelligence makes him an asset in all of these previously problematic areas.

[Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images]