Despite playing less minutes and scoring slightly less than last season, Thaddeus Young is playing much better this season. So far this season, Young has posted an Offensive Rating (ORtg) of 111.0, which is much higher than the 102.0 posted last season. One of the biggest reasons for the improvement is the improvement in Young's shooting.
Last season, Young posted a True Shooting Percentage (TS%) of 52.3 percent, the lowest of his career. This year, Young has bounced back, posting a TS% of 57.0 percent. The biggest reason for the improved shooting is an improved shot selection. What Young has done is cut out the three-point shots in his game, replacing those shots with more attempts inside 10 feet:
One of the ways Young has been able to get to the rim more is the way he is using his possessions. Instead of spotting up and settling for jumpers, which is something he did 19.3 percent of the time last season, Young has started to attack the rim more out of isolation sets (he has cut his spot-ups this season to just 11.7 percent of his possessions this season). Young is a very unique player, who has the size of a four but the skill set of a three, and this season Young is taking advantage of this by attacking the rim when getting mismatches instead of settling for jumpers:
Here, Young makes the catch on the elbow, and instead of settling for a jumper (which is something he may have done last year), he faces up and attacks the slower defender with a dribble drive. Young's speed advantage allows him to get inside the paint, and when he gets to the rim he is able to finish using his size to help him get a clean look at the rim over his defender.
On this play, Young makes the catch as an outlet on a baseline inbounds play. Once he makes the catch and allows the inbounder to cut through, he faces up and attacks the middle. Again, he is uses his quickness to get into the paint, and once he gets there he uses his size to finish, hitting the sweet hook shot over his defender.
This play is a good example of the change in Young's mindset. Young makes the catch behind the three-point line and last season, this would have been a shot attempt. Instead, Young refuses to settle for the three, and he starts to penetrate. Young again has another chance to settle as it looks like he is going to take a step back jumper off of the dribble, however Young decides not to take a shot, using a hesitation dribble to get even closer to the rim, where he finishes.
In addition to getting more shot attempts in the paint, Young is also more efficient this season because he is finishing more of his chances in the paint, especially when he is posting up his defender. According to Hoopdata.com, on shots at the rim Young has seen his shooting percentage rise from 62.1 percent to 75.4 percent, the highest of his career. This rise comes down to Young's improvement in the post. Last season, he scored just 0.661 points per possession (PPP) when posting his man up (215th in the entire NBA) on 37.6 percent shooting. This season, Young is posting a PPP of 1.0 (good for 36th in the league) on 54.8 percent shooting. When watching the tape, Young's improvement in the post comes down to one move, the hook shot that Young shoots when catching the ball on the right block and turns his right shoulder.
Last season, when Young made the catch on the right block, he would turn his right shoulder (turning towards the middle of the paint) 66.1 percent of the time. Out of the times he turned towards the middle, Young attempted a hook shot 58.1 percent of the time. Despite the frequency with which Young took his hook shot, he was very poor at it, scoring just 0.750 PPP with that move on 31.6 percent shooting. This season, Young is using the move with just about the same frequency (he turns his right shoulder 65.9 percent of the time, while attempting a hook shot 51.9 percent of the time), but Young has nearly doubled his output with the move, posting a PPP of 1.429 on 69.2 percent shooting.
These are two of Young's hook shots from last season. There are two problems that I see with this shot. First, he doesn't really get deep enough into the paint, meaning that he tended to settle. On both attempts he took the shoot a little farther out than you want to take a hook shot from. Second, he short-arms the actual shot attempt. There is no follow through, and these hook shots actually look like shot-puts. The only players that I have seen have success with this type of shot are Shawn Marion and Antawn Jamison.
The first thing that you should notice on this play is the deep position that Young is able to get. The most impressive thing about this play is that Young initially doesn't get good position, but instead of settling, Young makes a nice between the legs spin move which allows him to get a bit deeper in the paint. On the actual attempt, Young has a very smooth release and follow through as he puts the ball in the basket.
On this play, Young again is able to get deep position, but the most important aspect of the hook shot is Young's follow through. As Young attempts the shot you can see him complete the shot with his body facing the rim after he lets the basketball go. In the two misses above, Young attempts his shot going away from the rim and never really gets that strong of a follow through or gets his body facing the rim.
When looking at Young's game this season, you can see how Doug Collins and his new coaching staff wanted to use him. They wanted to keep him from shooting outside jumpers and wanted him to use his size to get the ball in the paint. In addition to being used more productively, Young has put the work in to improve one of his go-to moves in the post, and the results show the work was worth it as Young's hook shot has gone from a weakness to a weapon.
Sebastian Pruiti is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
You can contact Sebastian by clicking here or click here to see Sebastian's other articles.