Going into last season, I was really looking forward to writing about the potential pro careers for my adopted son, senior forward Michael Young, and former floor general, the woefully underappreciated James Robinson. However, I stepped into a regional scouting position with EV Hoops, one that I am extremely grateful for, and a bulk of my analysis went under lock and key. This season, I’ll be returning to my roots here at Cardiac Hill, and I am excited to resume my annual gushing of Young.
Let’s just dive right into it. The term stretch four gets thrown around quite a bit these days. While players such as Rasheed Wallace and Antoine Walker may have been ahead of their time, more so in Walker’s case, it seems like every NBA team is willing to pay a premium for a player who can rebound like a traditional frontcourt player with the added bonus of possessing three-point range that "stretches" the opposing defense.
Through three seasons, Pittsburgh Panthers fans have only seen a glimpse of the range that Young possesses; he’s made just 19 of 57 (33%) attempts from three-point distance. The production certainly isn’t there, but it’s not hard to see that he has a compact motion and consistent release point on his jumper. His balance is generally good on set attempts, but he does fade a little when rising off the bounce.
The foundation is there, and he’s farther along the path of being a stretch four than Talib Zanna was at this stage in their careers. For those of you who watched some of the pre-draft workouts that Zanna put out on social media while working with coach Koran Godwin, he worked on extending what seemed like non-existent range rather tirelessly and with a fair amount of success in that setting.
Young also has the added bonus on being able to put the ball on the floor when he is double-teamed, and is an above-average passer at the collegiate level for his position. This also makes him an intriguing option in pick-and-roll scenarios at the next level. Those are skills that Zanna never possessed three/four years into his career at Pitt.
That doesn’t mean Young is going to get a chance simply based on potential, not when he’s a senior. There are several key areas he’ll need to improve upon this season, to not only demonstrate he has NBA potential, but to perhaps get the Panthers out of the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament.
For starters, is he going to be able to show off his range? The departure of Robinson all but ensures that Young’s usage percentage will rise for the fourth straight season. Last year, his assist rate nearly doubled (8.9% to 15.4%) with the increased workload as well. When you combine those two things it’s easy to picture Young making even more plays for himself and his teammates this year. Still, that doesn’t mean he’ll be taking more attempts from beyond the arc.
Young is already a solid rebounder, but statistically, this is one area he needs to continually improve. Given the lack of another consistent frontcourt player, Young has drawn the opposing team’s best interior player for his entire career. It’s more important as a team and as an individual that he keeps his man off the glass, but this has kept his rebounding numbers in check. Perhaps this is a wash to some scouts, but posting better numbers never hurts.
Being able to put the ball on the floor can really separate one player from the next at the power forward position. As I mentioned earlier, Young can dribble out of double teams and has above-average vision which helps him find cutters, players utilizing off-ball screens, or finding an open player to reset the offense. However, he is a straight-line driver that doesn’t carry the ball very high in the lane. Last season, smaller defenders would rip the ball out of his hands as he was gathering to finish. He’ll likely never add a lot of shiftiness to his drives (also why I don’t believe he’s a small forward), but being stronger with the ball and carrying it higher in the lane isn’t out of the question.
Lastly, he needs to maintain a high-level of play throughout the season. Being asked to play out of position certainly hasn’t helped his legs in late February, but a professional season is quite a bit longer than the collegiate one, so it’s important he develops the type of strength and endurance to be consistent.
The time is now for Young and for Pitt. While I would expect general improvement from every incumbent player on the roster, Young still has the highest ceiling. If the Panthers want to make one solid run before the cupboard runs a little bare after this season, it will be because Young has elevated his game to a level worthy of NBA consideration.
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