As Sean mentioned yesterday, the Sixers become a much better team when Thaddeus Young steps on the court. They were 6.7 points per 100 possessions (PP100P from now on) better with him on the floor last year, and are 6.5 PP100P better this year. To quote Sean, that’s a staggering difference. And it seems like Thaddeus has raised his game to a higher level this season, doesn’t it? Watching him play, it seems as if his game has definitely improved from last year, particularly his jump shot. And, I hate to be the one to do this because I, like most NBA bloggers and writers, love Thaddeus Young. If we’re being completely forthcoming, I’ve got a bit of a man-crush on him. But, unfortunately, a closer look at the numbers suggests otherwise. Thaddeus Young’s overall game has taken a step back this season.
A quick comparison of Thad’s stats last year compared to this year tells the true story (all stats per-36 minutes according to Basketball-Reference):
2010-2011: 7.7 FG, 14.3 FGA, 54.1% FG, 2.6 ORB, 4.7 DRB, 7.3 TRB, 17.6 PTS
2011-2012: 7.2 FG, 14.3 FGA, 50.3% FG, 2.8 ORB, 3.8 DRB, 6.6 TRB, 16.6 PTS
If you look at the stats, he’s taking the exact same amount of shots as he did last season, but he’s making less, scoring less, and rebounding the ball less. By all measures, he’s gotten worse this year. However, the eye test suggests he’s been better this year, and the team is doing just as well with him on the court as they did last year, which is far better than they do without him. Interesting.
There’s no doubt that Thad’s jumper has improved this season, and the numbers reflect that. Last year (according to StatsCube), he shot 35% on mid-range jumpers, which accounted for 27.5% of his field goal attempts last season. This year, he’s shooting 39% on those same mid-range jump shots. However, they now consist of 33.5% of Thad’s field goal attempts. This is the main difference in his game, and it’s why his scoring and FG% have decreased this season. Last year, he was dominant inside the restricted area of the paint, shooting 70% on those shots, which were 53.4% of his FGAs. This year, with his increased shooting from outside the paint, he’s only shooting 62% inside the RA on 47.9% of his FGAs.
The difference in his offensive numbers is pretty obvious and easy to point out: since he’s taking a lot more mid-range jumpers, he’s getting away from what he’s best at: scoring in the low post. Though undersized, Thad has a really good low-post game, especially when he uses his spin move and jump hook, which are almost impossible to stop. He’s at his best offensively when he’s down low, so even though he’s making a lot more mid-range jumpers, he’s taking a lot more of them. And, the last time I checked, 62% > 39%, so his field goal percentage has declined as a result. And since he’s making less shots, and taking the same amount of shots (which made this post a lot easier to write), his scoring has decreased this season.
I also hypothesized that the increase in jump shots was bringing him further away from the basket, causing his rebounding numbers to decline this year, but upon further review I noticed that his offensive rebounding has actually improved this year and the big difference (a decline of 0.9 rebounds per 36) has come on the defensive glass. The only thing I can think of to explain that odd trend is that the players around him are improving their own rebounding. When you are competing with an improved Spencer Hawes, Elton Brand, and the rookie Nikola Vucevic, to go along with excellent rebounding wing players Evan Turner and Andre Iguodala, there’s probably just less rebounds to go around, which would explain why Thad’s DRBs are decreasing this year.
It seems like an odd question to ask, but given the numbers it must be posed: has Thaddeus Young’s improved jump shot made him a worse offensive player? It’s funny to think, but the answer might be yes. He’s not going down low as much as he used to or should, and his offensive game is suffering as a result. However, I don’t think there’s any way that you can say that a player’s game has become worse by improving their shot, so I’m going to give Thad the benefit of the doubt here. I think he’s falling in love with his better jumper this year, but I think that he eventually can (and will) learn that just because he has that weapon in his arsenal, doesn’t mean he has to use it. I think if Thad can go back to spending more time in the low post like he did in 2010-2011, but still have the ability to hit the mid-range jumper like 2011-2012 Thad, it would be the best of both worlds and he would become an even better offensive player. I’m not sure whether the decision on whether to stay down low more is up to him, though. It might be a conscious decision made by Doug Collins to use him more outside the paint. In that case, Collins needs to look at the numbers and realize that despite his improvements shooting the ball, Thaddeus Young is still a far more effective player down low. Whether the decision is Young’s or Collins’, the trends need to be recognized and, one way or another, Thad must get back to doing what he does best: scoring in the restricted area.