‘It’s Hard’: Sixers Detail Strategy for Stopping Hawks Star

Trae Young

Getty Trae Young fired up at Madison Square Garden.

Atlanta Hawks star Trae Young is one of the most prolific scorers in the NBA, a living video game able to explode for 40 points on any given night. He missed two of the three matchups against the Philadelphia 76ers this season but pumped in 26 when the two teams did meet.

Young averaged 25.3 points and 9.4 assists per game for Atlanta in 63 games while shooting 34.3% from deep. His all-around game is a thing of beauty, including a dizzying handle and flawless jumper. And Sixers head coach Doc Rivers thinks he might be a better passer than a scorer.

“I actually made the comment that he is a better passer than he is a scorer,” Rivers said, referring to comments he made a few years ago. “Now, his scoring has caught up, and he has continued to be a great passer. What makes him a great passer is that he’s a great scorer, and he understands that so well. He knows that there is so much attention to him to try to take the ball out of his hands, to try to trap him.”

The 22-year-old guard has 1,807 career assists in three NBA seasons as he soars about Atlanta’s all-time leaderboard. The man at the top? None other than Rivers who dished out 3,866 dimes in eight seasons there. The 59-year-old coach joked that he didn’t belong in the same breath as Young.

“He can play basketball. I just threw it to Dominique [Wilkins],” Rivers said. “That would be the biggest difference.”

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Not Just Young, Hawks Loaded with Talent

Rivers knows the Sixers will have their hands full trying to stop Young in their best-of-seven playoff series. He’s playing with a chip on his shoulder and proved it in the first round. Young averaged 27.0 points per game against the New York Knicks, including 36 points in the decisive Game 5. But it’s been his ability to get his teammates involved that has the Sixers worried. The Hawks have talent up and down the roster, from one through five.

“It’s hard. He’s good for a reason,” Rivers said. “I’ve always said with guys like Trae and all the great scorers, if you can slow them down that easy, they wouldn’t be great scorers. They’re gonna make it difficult or he will, but he has so many other guys to play with that he can pass to.”

Rivers specifically mentioned guys like Clint Capela, Bogdan Bogdanovic, De’Andre Hunter, Danilo Gallinari, Kevin Huerter, and John Collins. Both teams have watched enough tape to know each other like the back of their own hand. Whether they can put that into practice and make stops on the defensive end is another story.

“Neither team is going to recreate the wheel. They’ve seen what we’re going to do, we’ve seen what they’re going to do, for the most part,” Rivers said. “I’m sure both of us will make small adjustments but you don’t want to get caught in trying to recreate the wheel in the playoffs.

“Usually, that doesn’t go well. But they’ll play that small lineup with Collins at the five, where he’s popping instead of rolling, with Trae Young coming off — and that’s a really difficult coverage for everybody.”

‘You Can’t Take Away All Three’

Sixers veteran Danny Green might be one guy who spends some time guarding Young, although the majority of that matchup should belong to Ben Simmons and Matisse Thybulle. But Young’s jersey will be engrained into the back of every player’s brain. He’s just that good. It’s not a matter of shutting him down, it’s more about containment.

“You want to take away Trae’s threes, his penetration. He obviously makes plays at the rim, his floaters. You can’t take away all three of them,” Green said. “He is very good at it. He’s very crafty for a reason. So, the approach is to try to take away his touches, throw different looks at him. Try to make him play to his weaknesses, which is not many things.”

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