A Weekly Dose of Pacers Positivity #3: Captain Thaddeus

For A Weekly Dose of Pacers Positivity, I will bring a short column that highlights something about this team that gives me hope. The season is long. We need to focus on the positives whether in the midst of a winning streak or the depths of a rough patch. And in this stretch of lost big leads, we need some positivity. 

In the past week the Pacers went 1-3, beating the Cavs easily (which used to be a bigger deal) and losing close games and second-half leads at Philadelphia and New York and at home against New Orleans.

In those games, Thaddeus Young shined brightly. Bright things give me hope.

When the Pacers traded their 20th pick (which became Caris LeVert) and a future 2nd-round pick to the Nets, I was more than hopeful: I was excited.

I had enjoyed watching Young for years, first with the 76ers and then, after forgetting about him a bit, with Brooklyn. I pegged his ability to guard multiple positions, to use his athleticism to challenge for rebounds, and to beat his man in down the court to be what might push the Pacers over the edge in their transition to a more uptempo offense.

In Thad, the Pacers now had someone who could help guard LeBron and other larger wings, too, and because he wasn’t a terrible shooter from distance, someone who could stretch the floor at the four–a modern NBA offensive trait the Pacers had noticeably lacked.

He embodied what a Pacers acquisition has generally been: someone who is good at a lot of things but not great at any one thing. He also proved that without him, the Pacers struggled. And that his injured wrist was a season-breaking injury for the team.

This season, I was not surprised to see Young selected by his teammates to be a captain. He is one of the hardest workers on the court, often guarding the opposing team’s best front-court option. While this doesn’t always work well, we never hear Thad complain. As a veteran in the league, he has found and embraced his role.  (A quick aside: it was fun to find this article from 2012 about Thad wanting to start at small forward for the 76ers and his frustration playing the four off the bench at the time.)

His role on the team has been to lead by example, to provide energy, and to shoot (surprisingly better with the Pacers than with his previous teams). His shot attempts are up this season considerably (from 9 to 12.5), and he has not been afraid to take threes. He is currently shooting more threes per game than at any other point in his career, which is terrific. He’s not a great shooter from deep for his position, but he is a good one (38% last year on >100 shots, almost 40% this year), so let them fly, Thad! Last year after his injury, Young made just one of seven 3-point attempts as he was reluctant to shoot anything from more than 10-feet from the basket.

At times, Thad will surprise you with a move that makes you wonder where that came from like last night when he left Anthony Davis reaching in the wind as he strolled in for a bucket.

No one’s ever had a more effective awkward floaters game than Thaddeus. Those left-hand sudo-hooks in the post or off the dribble almost always seem to drop for him. None better than the game-winner against the Wizards last season.

Thad’s ability to start at power forward gives the Pacers the chance to develop their young bigs more effectively. Sabonis could start at the four, like he did in OKC for awhile, but he is showing that his impact in the second unit at the five and short stints alongside Myles Turner helps this team most. This also allows rookie TJ Leaf into the rotation, and Leaf is showing that he was worth his draft position (future hope column surely looming on him if he comes back strong).

So, Thad gives me hope. His contract is solid and a slight bargain in the post cap spike era ($13 million this season, player option $13.75 million next that he’ll likely decline); he is still on the right side of 30; his skillset is multifaceted, and he does not complain.

Before the season, I thought Young might be mentioned in trade rumors near the deadline, but I think that is becoming less and less likely by the game. And for good reason: though he was brought in to help provide immediate talent for Paul George, he can help this team now and help it grow in the future. I truly hope the Pacers are able to keep him.

Also, his name is Thaddeus. I wish my name was Thaddeus.

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