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NBA Outlook: Michael Young

NCAA Basketball: ACC Conference Tournament-Virginia vs Pittsburgh Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

Going into the last two seasons, I championed senior forward Michael Young as a player who had the tools to potentially play in the NBA one day. Of course, that should never have been viewed as a guarantee. Young is now at the end of his collegiate tenure, and the prospect of making an NBA roster, let alone being drafted, is less likely than when the season started. Perhaps that seems like a harsh reality for the guy who finished second in the ACC in scoring (19.6ppg), but here’s why.

The number one question I get asked about Young is whether there is the potential for him to play small forward in the NBA. The short answer is no; he is not an NBA-caliber small forward, even as a rotational player. Offensively, his handle is suspect and that manifests itself in the form of straight-line drives against a defender not used to defending so far away from the basket, or the in-and-out dribbles with his dominant hand that led to as many unforced turnovers as it did semi-contested three-point attempts.

Young is capable of getting into the lane and has a strong first dribble, albeit not accompanied by an explosive first step, but doesn’t demonstrate any shiftiness or creativity in the lane. He struggles to finish through contact at the rim, which really brings attention to the fact he’s an average athlete. Additionally, he carries the ball relatively high on his gathers and has been stripped of the ball numerous times by smaller guards as he looks to finish.

To his credit, Young is adept has shielding defenders with his body and uses the glass well from either block when finishing around the rim. However, the uptick in athleticism and shot blocking at the next level will see his already average finishing percentage (64.2%) decrease even further. For his position, he’s a good passer especially out of double teams when the extra defender comes through his vision. Most of the time, Young is able to take a dribble or two towards the corner and either take advantage of the one-on-one situation or catch the defense in rotation by passing. His assist percentage (20.4%) was no fluke, but the in-game situations in which he generates quite a few of those won’t exist in the NBA.

There is also very little evidence that he’ll be able to stretch the floor in the NBA. Up until this season, Young attempted just 57 three-pointers and converted 19 of them (33.3%). That’s hardly someone that I’d project as a stretch-4 or a small forward, especially when the three-point line will be at least one-foot farther back from the corners and two-feet farther straight away. His 34.1% on triples as a senior is a respectable mark, but he took nearly 4.5 attempts per game. Ask yourself if you see him going 1-3 on a nightly basis from beyond the arc in the NBA in limited and inconsistent minutes, and that’s not even an ideal rate of conversion. His current game just doesn’t lend to being even more perimeter oriented in the NBA.

Young isn’t a dominant rebounder; he ranked just outside the top-15 in the ACC at 6.8 boards per game. The fact that his rebounds per 40 minutes never projected in double-digits in any of his four seasons is another contributing factor to why I’ve been asked if he could be a small forward in the NBA. What’s even more disappointing for him is that his career total rebounding percentage of 13% is just slightly better than fellow senior forward Jaron Blossomgame (12.3%) of Clemson, who does project as a small forward in the NBA and has played on the perimeter more in college than Young.

But his ability to put the ball on the floor, connect from long distance, and average rebounding rate aren’t the only reasons I get asked if he can be a small forward in the NBA, it’s also because he lacks the size to be a power forward. Two years ago, I scouted then Louisville Cardinal Montrezl Harrell. Few thought that Harrell was anywhere near his listed 6’9” height; he measured 6’7.5” in shoes at the combine. Even with the way Harrell wore his hair, at best, Young was noticeably not as tall. Even if we presume a very small growth spurt for Young over the last two years, he’s not going to measure at 6’9” with shoes in a few months.

Additionally, his frame doesn’t look like it could add a lot of muscle and weight without sacrificing the level of athleticism he’s already at. Young doesn’t have tree trunks as legs, isn’t especially broad in the shoulders as far as power forwards go, and already lacks explosiveness in his current, lean state. For a senior like Young who was forced to exert a ton of energy on the offensive end, projecting what he’d look like on defense is a lot about his rebounding ability, size, and athleticism. None of those three things are positives for Young.

Perhaps you’d like more of an objective approach as to why Young won’t make an NBA roster. That’s fine. For starters, it always seems like people assume the NBA has an infinite number of available roster spots. That isn’t true. If all 30 teams carry the maximum number of players, 15, that would means 450 players are in the NBA (360 of those are eligible to dress in uniform). Now there is a lot of fluctuation both ways: Not every team carries 15 players and several teams will have upwards of 20 players that were paid by them over the course of the season. Still, just take a second and ask yourself, “Is Michael Young one of the best 450 basketball players in the world?”

The reality is in order to make an NBA roster, someone has to be replaced. In a vacuum, if we assume Young isn’t a first-round pick (he definitely isn’t), then any team he presumably joins will need to clear at least two roster spots (it’s rare that a team doesn’t sign first-round picks). That not only means beating out incumbents who will carry actual NBA experience, but it means he’ll need to be a better prospect than the pool of available players, which won’t just include the 2017 draft class. It will also include players who played overseas and are now looking to make an NBA roster. It will include players cut from other teams. It will include players from the D-League who may have spent time in the NBA under a 10-day contract. To avoid going down the rabbit hole too far, and so this article doesn’t reach an unreadable length, let’s just take a look at Young’s competition in the 2017 draft.

Let’s start with sophomore forward Tyler Lydon of Syracuse, who is already projected as a first-round selection. Somewhat like Young, scouts aren’t all in agreement of what position Lydon will play in the NBA. Comparing the on paper stuff, Lydon finishes slightly better at the rim (65.3% to 64.2%) with a very similar distribution, in terms of their individual attempts, taken there. Lydon connected at a 39.5% rate on three-pointers with 38.9% of his total attempts coming from long distance; Young clocked in at 34.1% and 25.7% of his attempts were triples. The former took 124 total three-pointers this past season, the latter attempted 123 of them.

Lydon was even more accurate as a freshman going 49-121 (40.5%), while again, Young took all of 57 triples through his first three seasons. And that’s just comparing them in one area. Lydon was statistically a better rebounder, comparable in assists, and a much better shot blocker as well. Take into account that he’s much closer to 6’9” than Young and is roughly two years younger, and it’s easy to see why one is projected as a better pro than the other.

Want someone closer to Young’s age? How about senior forward Alec Peters from Valparaiso, who is a better finisher at the rim, rebounder, and more accurate from beyond the arc than Young, statistically speaking. Peters is projected as a second round pick to undrafted, the exact grade someone may generously give Young. What if someone like sophomore forward Cameron Oliver out of Nevada declares again but stays in the draft? That’s just another player who has better numbers in all three areas than Young, is two years younger and has the added benefit of being a superior athlete.

Like Artis, Young was a very good collegiate player and honestly one of my favorite Pittsburgh Panthers to lace them up at the ‘Pete’. He’ll for sure make an NBA Summer League roster and has a career overseas waiting for him if he wants it. Still, he is pretty much at his ceiling and doesn’t possess one major skill that will translate to the NBA - rebounding is usually the one that translates the most. Unfortunately for Young, there are several younger players in this draft class who have a more proven track record in same areas that make Young’s skill set attractive in the NBA. I didn’t even touch on the fact that the culture surrounding the program doesn’t help his case, and for Young, that just makes an uphill battle even tougher.

- Stats courtesy of Hoop-Math & Sports Reference.

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