Thaddeus Young's playing time in his best season to date actually decreased. It's true. In his first campaign as a sixth man under new Sixers coach Doug Collins, Young played about 26 minutes per game, down from 32 the season before. Even with the apparent "demotion" Young was a better player last season than two years ago. Because of the dip in court time, his scoring average dropped from 13.8 to 12.7. However, he was far more efficient and his WARP jumped from 0.1 to 4.2--a massive increase. Why? Let's start with Young's leap in True Shooting Percentage (TS%), which improved from 52.3 percent to 56.6.
Getting deeper into the numbers and into the game tape, the area where Young improved the most was with his back to the basket. Young went from a liability as a post player two years ago to a tremendous asset. According to Synergy Sports Technologies, Young put up .661 points per possession (PPP) on the block two years ago on 37.6 percent shooting. That slotted him in the bottom 16 percent among NBA players. Last year, Young's PPP jumped all the way to 1.029 and he shot 56.8 percent. That was good enough for the top 12 percent among NBA players.
So what was responsible for this pretty incredible jump? It's all about position:
The play above is from two years ago and it is pretty representitive of Young's post attempts throughout the 2009-10 season. The Sixers bring the basketball down the court as Young attempts to post up his man. Despite having Joe Johnson defending him, Young isn't able to establish position and he ends up getting the basketball way too far away from the hoop, outside the paint. Once he does get the ball, Young is unable to back down Johnson with the dribble and he eventually picks up his dribble and throws the ball away. Young isn't the strongest power forward, and the fact that he can't even establish position with a guy like Johnson defending him showed his weakness on the block.
This past season, Johnson was able to consistently get better position. Not with strength, as it appeared Young didn't really improve in that respect, but with quickness. That's an advantage Young has over most of the fours defending him:
The Sixers focused on letting Young get to the block and look for the ball off of movement. Young is quicker than most fours and because of that, when he starts moving around, whether it be off of transition or after setting a screen and rolling to the rim, he is able to establish strong post position after making a cut. With Young, this was a far more effective method than letting him set up on the block and trying to out-muscle opponents.
Because Young established better post position, he was able to use his quickness with the ball much more effectively as well. Instead of making the catch too far away and trying to back his man down to make up the distance, Young was able to catch the ball on the block and get into his move very quickly. This past season, these quick moves really gave the defense trouble and allowed Young to get a lot of clean looks right at the rim.
This was probably a decision made by the Sixers' coaching staff, more than likely starting with Collins and it was a great adjustment, turning a player's weakness into a strength. It will be interesting to see if defenses start picking up on this and start being physical with Young everywhere on the court, preventing him from using his quickness as an advantage. If that happens, it will be interesting to see if Young can make another adjustment.
Sebastian Pruiti is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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