San Antonio Spurs Free Agency

Spurs: Adding "Thagic Johnson" will prove an underrated move

Ángel Torres
Thaddeus Young
Thaddeus Young / Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
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San Antonio Spurs
Thaddeus Young / Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Offense: Meaningful Ball Movement

In the 2020-21 season, Thaddeus Young had inarguably one of the best seasons of his career. He became a crucial hub for the Bulls in new coach Billy Donovan’s offense and displayed prodigious passing on his way to career-highs in assists per game (4.3) and assist rate (25.4%), both nearly double his previous career-high marks.

For the first time, Young was repeatedly deployed as a small-ball 5. While playing 57% of his minutes at center, he put up an insane 30% assist rate, good for 98th percentile among all centers, per Cleaning the Glass.

But lest we completely equate general passing stats to truly meaningful playmaking that elevates teammates, if you look more closely into how this newfound proclivity to pass boosted his team’s offense, you’ll see the value he provided by greasing the offensive gears and creating better looks when he was on the floor. 

When Young was on the court, the team’s efficiency (points per 100 possessions) increased by a whopping 10.7 points while their eFG% went up by 3.6 percentage points, which respectively ranked in the 98th percentile and 93rd percentile for all players.

Basically, Chicago played like a 52-win team when he was on the floor. He made things happen, all while taking pressure off of Bulls star Zach LaVine for stretches. And Young did not take that role lightly.

Here’s a quote from an NBC Sports podcast appearance he made in April earlier this year:

“[For] every team, if you don’t have a really good facilitator who can come off screen-and-rolls, get the floater in the lane, hit the big on the roll, or kick out for threes, it’s going to be tough for you to win basketball games because everything is predicated off of ball movement, getting wide-open shots, and the easiest shots.”

Along with his usual array of savvy flip shots and decisive interior finishing, you’re just not stopping that man from going to his left hand, I promise you.

Young seemed to relish his secondary playmaker role. He regularly dished to open teammates with aplomb while in the high post, attacking closeouts with flashy passes, operating in dribble handoffs, or coming off a short roll.

It’s no wonder he earned the delightful “Thagic Johnson” nickname, courtesy of Bulls play-by-play man Adam Amin and color commentator Stacey King.

Young could thrive in a similar neo-Bobo role with the San Antonio Spurs, giving them another smart ball mover to help foster an environment where the young core can grow into more opportunities this coming season. 

How do these kind of moves, such as signing veteran sharpshooter Doug McDermott, serve to help the team figure out if these young pieces can learn to win together?