5) Thaddeus Young, Freed.
Two weeks ago, the Nets made perhaps their best value trade in the Deron Williams era. Sure, Joe Johnson brought back more talent for less cost, and Kevin Garnett & Paul Pierce brought legitimacy to a team’s title hopes for a few weeks. But in dealing Garnett away for Thaddeus Young, the Nets have replaced a great leader with a legitimately good player. The Nets used Minnesota’s nostalgia to pick up a legitimate difference-maker and saved money this season in a deal that’s worked out famously for both parties.
Young’s infusion into the team’s rotation has provided a huge lift to a rotation that lost Mirza Teletovic to blood clots and casually features Cory Jefferson on a game-by-game basis. Since the All-Star break, Young leads the Nets in points scored in the paint, averaging just over nine points per game in that area, and he’s shot 50 percent or better in each of his first five games.
Young has grounded his game after a high-flying start to his career. He’s not a highlight maker. But he’s nonetheless an effective player, using a variety of duck-in moves and fakes to get inside and loft close floaters & hook shots over defenders. Defensively, Young is quick to spots and able to guard multiple positions, a key skill the Nets didn’t have in their frontcourt before the deal. Though he’ll never quite have Kevin Garnett’s bark — who ever could? — his versatility and sense of timing bridge that gap.
He’s played a bit over his head in the small five-game sample, and he’ll probably come down a bit over the next two months. But whether or not he starts, his all-around game predicated on scoring, defending, and rebounding means he’s primed to play major minutes as the Nets make their playoff push. He affects the game in a way the 38-year-old Kevin Garnett could no longer do.
I’ll end with this: Young’s player efficiency rating since joining the Nets? 23.7. Blake Griffin’s player efficiency rating this season? 23.1. I know what you’re thinking: am I suggesting that Thaddeus Young is better than Blake Griffin?
Yes. That is exactly what I am suggesting.