ATLANTA (AP) — Trae Young just might make the Atlanta Hawks fun to watch this season.
The rookie point guard flashed some dazzling ball-handling skills in his preseason debut, keeping his teammates and fans involved in the action while he is on the floor.
Atlanta is not expected to win many games this season, but Young will likely win over his teammates and more than a few fans.
“His greatest skill is he can facilitate and he can find guys,” first-year coach Lloyd Pierce said. “When you have a player with the ability to do that, to find guys in creative ways, he’s fun to play with.”
In his preseason debut Monday night, Young provided a glimpse of what Hawks fans can expect this year.
On one play he bounced a pass off the backboard and later wrapped on around a defender on the baseline to assist on uncontested dunks.
Some not so good: It was far from a perfect night as Young missed 10 of his first 11 attempts from the field.
But he seemed to get a pass on his shooting — for now.
The seamless way he involved power forward John Collins, shooting guard Kent Bazemore and small forward Taurean Prince caused a loud stir from the small crowd at Georgia Tech.
At least for one preseason game, he validated why the Hawks traded down two spots on draft night to acquire the freshman out of Oklahoma with the No. 5 overall pick.
The 20-year-old had six assists before he committed a turnover, the best moment coming in the second quarter when he ran a pick-and-roll with Collins at the top of the key. Young drove around Julius Randle and drew Davis his way before bouncing an alley-oop pass off the backboard that Collins grabbed for a hard dunk.
“We’ve been doing that in practice and in drills and stuff,” Young said. “We were waiting for the moment when we could do it in a game. Lucky it happened in the first preseason game, which was pretty cool.”
With the Hawks playing another four exhibitions before opening the season Oct. 17 in New York, Pierce will continue to install his offense, a scheme that’s predicated on pushing the ball quickly up the floor before the defense gets set.
“We’re measuring everything with our first three steps,” Pierce said. “How quickly can we react to turnovers, makes and misses? When we have to play in the half-court, it’s body and ball movement. We’re looking for the most efficient shots, and that’s created. Our separation will be our bodies moving.”
Young brushed off his difficulty shooting. He had a similarly rough start in the NBA summer league before settling down.
As long as he’s handing out assists, Young believes his shots will start to fall. He finally got going against New Orleans’ reserves in the third quarter, hitting consecutive shots off Alex Len’s block and Collins’ steal to give Atlanta the lead for good.
He finished with eight assists and two turnovers and scored 11 points on 5 for 16 shooting.
“My teammates did a great job of making plays, setting good screens, knocking down shots,” Young said. “John had a heck of a game. (Prince) had some insane moments, and Baze. Everybody had a good game today. It makes my job look a lot easier.”
Vince Carter, a 20th-year veteran and eight-time All-Star, continues to offer encouragement.
“He hesitated on a shot that just six months ago he would’ve let that fly whether he was 1 for 11 or 11 for 11, and I was just trying to tell him,” Carter said. “The mentality doesn’t change. He’s a point guard that can score and he can make plays for other people. Be the Trae Young that they drafted.”