The NBA is a mother that eats its Young

The following is the third-part in an indeterminate-part series that takes a closer look at each of the key components of the Sixers as they approach a season that may mark a turning point for the franchise, but will probably just be a disappointment. Today we look at Thaddeus Young.

By TOM SUNNERGREN
Staff Writer — tsunnergren@highhopesblog.com
________

People are fascinated by potential; both the concept itself and the things that possess it. This fascination has its roots in evolutionary biology. Put crudely, man, owing to the development of his prefrontal cortex, is, alone amongst the animals, capable of looking at an object and seeing not just what it is but of imagining what else it could be molded into. It’s this capacity more than any other that distinguishes us from our fellow primates. It’s why we are tool builders.

It’s also why Justin Bieber gets profiled in Time*. So this instinct, while intrinsically good, isn’t invulnerable to misdirection. In fact a whole cottage industry has emerged that specializes in the transmogrification of this instinct into a perverse obsession with the “next thing.”

*He actually seems like a really grounded and sweet kid. Funny too.

It works like this. We get excited about a potential something, work ourselves into a frenzy over it, then, most of the time, watch it fail to realize the possibility we imagined for it. But before we have much time to reflect on these now old disappointments (or the system itself) they are brushed aside and forgotten, displaced by newer, and maybe, just maybe, better potentialities*.  And when they fall short, there are plenty more potential somethings humming along just behind them on the assembly line. Potential is a volume business**.

*This also explains why my parents kept having children.

**Not unlike writing witty sports columns.

The NBA sort of works like this, except GM’s give potential guaranteed contracts. So the brushing aside and replacing takes five years and costs millions of dollars.

This brings us to Thaddeus Young .

What we like about Thaddeus Young

Pretty much everything that happened before March of 2008 was gravy for Thad*. Coming out of high school, he was an honors student with a 4.3 GPA, a two-time Mr. Basketball in the state of Tennessee, a McDonalds All-American, and, according to Rivals.com, the number three small forward in the nation behind Chase Budinger and Kevin Durant**. His freshman year at Georgia Tech came and went with enough highlights stuffed in-between to get him picked in the lottery of the 2007 NBA draft. Then in his rookie year in the association he shot 54 percent from the floor and produced 3.2 wins with a WP48 of .099***; which is roughly the per-minute production Lebron offered his rookie year.

*Maybe not everything. He might have had a horrible childhood, or, like, really awful personal demons that haunted him, but that he kept under wraps and internalized to maintain the illusion of perfection he felt the world was demanding of him. I’m just taking about basketball related stuff.

**No shame in finishing second to Chase Budinger.

***This is about two and a half times the production of the average rookie.

If Larry Brown had fallen into a coma in March of 2008, awoke today*, was offered and accepted the head coaching position of the Sixers and saw that he had Thaddeus Young on his roster he would do backflips**. In fact, as I type this, Thad is twenty-two years old, 24 months removed from his aforementioned halcyon day, and hasn’t suffered any injuries of the career-altering variety in the intervening period. So, to quote Rod Stewart***, there’s reason to believe.

*It’s possible this happened

**This is much less possible than the coma scenario

***Which I do as often as possible

What makes us nervous about Thaddeus Young

In short, pretty much everything that’s happened since March of 2008. He has regressed in nearly every facet of the game.

In long, his shooting percentage has fallen seven points*, his rebounding totals have dropped nearly two per 48 minutes**, his turnovers have jumped from two to three, and his free throw percentage has fallen five points. Consequently he’s gone from being a rookie who was 250 percent better than average, to a veteran who’s one of the least productive starters in the game***.

*This is mostly because he became enamored with the three. We can thank Mo Cheeks for this.

**In the NBA the average 4 gets about 11.4 boards per 48 minutes while the average 3 gets about 7.6. Since Thad essentially splits time between the two positions, we should expect him to grab about 9.5. Put gently, he hasn’t met these expectations. He averaged 7.5 in 08-09 and 7.8 this past season. That’s two possessions a game he’s costing his team.

***In 09-10 he had a WP48 of -.02 and produced -.094 wins. That’s Adam Morrison bad. Oh, and Adam Morrison has diabetes and smokes cigarettes.

His career has progressed worse than M Night Shyamalan’s.

What will become of Thaddeus Young

Though he’s only 22, and NBA players generally improve until 25, it seems as though Thaddeus is on a different trajectory than most and I suspect we’re fast approaching the moment when the Sixers management, imperceptive as they are, will realize this. He’ll produce this year what he produced last year*, play out his rookie deal without receiving a new offer, and leave with little fanfare.

*Nothing

And then maybe one day, not long after he’s gone, one of you, while moving out of your apartment, will come across one of his old cards, or see his jersey on the subway on the way to a job interview, and for a fleeting moment will wonder what ever happened to that kid from Georgia Tech who had so much promise.

And then you’ll forget.

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