Four Ways The Sixers Can Attack Trae Young's Defense
Let’s make Trae Young work harder on defense. Here’s how.
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Trae Young is, simply put, one of the worst defenders in the NBA. Purely based on his physical limitations, there is no reason why he shouldn’t be a huge liability on the defensive end in any playoff environment. And yet, through two games in this series, it hasn’t felt like Young’s defensive shortcomings have played any role whatsoever -- the Sixers, like the Knicks before them, have been completely unable to target Young in any meaningful way.
So, here I will be highlighting a few ways that the Sixers could change that dynamic, and make the Hawks pay for Young’s inability to keep up defensively. Let’s get into it.
Quick-hitting out of bounds plays
Most of these tactics are going to involve, in one way or another, Young’s man setting a screen to get him involved in the play. This was an excellent SLOB play design that I found from Game 2. The ball inbounds to Danny Green, who gives a hand-off to the inbounder (in this case Tobias Harris), and Harris is able to blow by Young like he’s a western saloon door.
These are the types of quick-hitting actions that you have to make Young guard -- make it so that if they don’t execute it perfectly, they will have no choice but to switch. In general, you would like to see more of these single or double staggered hand-offs involving Green; Danny will have to take on a major role as a screen setter in this series.
As you saw in that clip, it’s abundantly obvious that Young wants zero part of guarding players like Simmons or Harris one-on-one. Force a switch, and you’ve got an easy bucket.
(Well executed) semi-transition screens
This is a tactic that some of you may remember the Raptors often using back in the 2019 ECSF to target JJ Redick. They would have Danny Green screen for either Kyle Lowry or Kawhi Leonard in semi-transition, and force the Sixers to decide whether they wanted to switch Redick onto their stars, or try to make a difficult recovery:
Fortunately, as Green was the one setting the screens in those clips, he should have plenty of familiarity with this type of action. Even though Harris and Ben Simmons aren’t the scorers that Kawhi Leonard is, you’d still be wise to run this action for them.
Sure enough, the Sixers did try to orchestrate this a few times for Harris, but their execution was awful in these situations. Seth Curry barely makes any contact on this screen, Solomon Hill is able to recover, and Young never even has to think about switching onto Harris.
On this play, they get the switch they want, but Harris inexplicably picks up his dribble, and the result is a lost opportunity:
Fortunately, the Sixers got away with it, and Harris scored anyway on both of these possessions. And for that matter, the Sixers are scoring just fine in this series without really targeting Young. But the value in making Young’s defense a major factor goes beyond their scoring total -- it will inevitably impact Young’s energy levels and overall mentality throughout the game. There is immense value here even if it doesn’t skyrocket the Sixers’ offensive efficiency.
The LeBron James vs. Steph Curry treatment
We all watched four consecutive NBA finals that consisted of the same sequence over and over again any time Cleveland had the ball -- LeBron holds the ball 28 feet from the basket, and Steph Curry’s matchup sets a screen in order to get Curry switched onto LeBron.
While there is no LeBron James on the Sixers, I would not be the least bit opposed to turning the Sixers’ crunch time offense into a Trae Young hunting season. Young’s defense is truly that bad -- even a team without a true superstar perimeter scorer would be well served to bring their offense to a screeching halt and search him out on switches. I have complete confidence in Harris and Simmons’ ability to score on Young if he’s switched onto one of them.
The Simmons/Curry 1-2 pick and roll
This is a play that I highlighted in my article from before the series began. The Sixers should bring back an old play from the JJ Redick era, in which they clear the floor for a Simmons-Redick (now, this would be Seth Curry) pick and roll.
This is quite similar to the type of tactic I mentioned above, but the difference is that it’s designed to be quick hitting, and to set up Simmons for an immediate downhill attack, rather than for a slower developing isolation.
Bonus note: increase the number of screens that Green runs through on defense
This doesn’t count as targeting Young, per se, since it’s not about forcing him to defend a disadvantageous matchup. But it’s still a worthwhile endeavor to force Young to navigate a whole bunch of off-ball screens so that he can’t simply rest in the corner. The Sixers have had some success with it already, and as you can see, he is wont to fall asleep in these types of situations.
Especially with how sneaky Green can be with his off-ball movement, forcing Young to keep up with him is essential.