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Hoonhout: Trae Young still has room for growth

| Monday, January 22, 2018

Don’t get me wrong — Trae Young is tremendously fun to watch.

The freshman phenom has taken Oklahoma and the college basketball world by storm, lighting up the scoreboard with incredible numbers. The diminutive point guard has limitless range and incredible vision, already recording three 40-plus point outings and leading Oklahoma — who finished last season with an 11-20 record — back to the being among college basketball’s elite.

And while Young’s skills have drawn rave reviews, vaulted him into the NBA Draft conversation and even caused some to see him as the next Steph Curry, the freshman still has room to improve.

A perfect example would be in Saturday’s rivalry game against Oklahoma State. Despite putting up 48 points on the Cowboys, Young and his Sooners fell in overtime 83-81.

Oklahoma’s offense is built around Young. And for good reason. With the freshman pulling the strings, the Sooners are averaging 92.2 points per game, good for second in the country and a huge improvement over last season. But part of that gameplan allows Young to hoist up a lot of shots. And I mean a lot.

Young has 370 field goal attempts already this season, more than the next two players on Oklahoma combined. While it’s paid off for the most part so far this year, in Oklahoma’s four losses, Young has struggled at being efficient.

In the first half against the Cowboys on Saturday, Young was downright poor. He shot 26.8 percent from the floor, including 2-for-8 from 3-point range and with four turnovers, and it made perfect sense why Oklahoma State was up 12 at halftime.

But the freshman came out in the second half unabashed and turned the game around. He shot just over 41 percent, and was a red-hot 6-for-12 from behind the arc, leading his team back to retake the lead. Even when Oklahoma State hit a 3 to tie the game with nine seconds left, Young had a chance to win it. But at this point, the Cowboys knew what was coming. Young was forced to hoist a 35-foot bomb out of a double team, and the ball harmlessly clanked off the front of the rim.

At the end of overtime, the exact same happened. Down two with six seconds left, Young got the ball off the inbounds and dribbled through three defenders before being forced to hoist up another deep 3 over a double team as time expired. Once again, the shot clanked off the rim.

After a strong start to the season, it seems Oklahoma has hit a road block in conference play. The Sooners now sit at 4-3 in the Big 12, including two straight losses to unranked teams. The Sooners have only outscored their conference opponents by three points over seven games, despite having the leading scorer in the country to boost their chances. But there comes a point where Young has to rely a little more on his teammates.

Although he leads the country in assists, he still makes poor decisions with the ball when there are teammates open, and already has racked up 52 turnovers in conference play. Young has talented and capable teammates to share the rock with, but when Oklahoma has been in hostile environments and Young has struggled carrying the team, the Sooners look very beatable.

And the season only gets harder from here. Young and Co. still have five more conference road games on the cards, including against No. 8 Texas Tech and No. 10 Kansas. When the dogfights inevitably come, Young’s maturity at being a floor general may be what separates the Sooners.

For now, it’s a work in process.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Tobias Hoonhout

Toby served as Managing Editor in the 2018-2019 term.

Contact Tobias