The Denver Nuggets face a tough choice with a player like James Young, one that has challenged every franchise in the NBA at one point or another: How much of a chance are you willing to take on raw talent?
Young is the third youngest player in this year’s draft — he doesn’t turn 19 until August — behind Arizona’s Aaron Gordon and Indiana’s Noah Vonleh. He enters the draft following a single season at the University of Kentucky (imagine that, a one-and-doner coming out of UK!), where he helped the Cats make a legendary tournament run that fell just short, losing to UCONN in the National Championship Game. During his freshman campaign in Lexington, the 6′ 7″ Young averaged 14.3 points, 4.3 boards, and 1.7 assists per game while shooting 47% from the field. He is best known for his shooting ability, though he shot just 34.5% from behind the arc and finished the season shooting just above 70% from the charity stripe, both rather pedestrian stats for a player who has garnered a lot of praise for his shot.
I had the opportunity to watch just about every Kentucky basketball game during the 2013-14 season, so I saw a lot of James Young. He is a scorer and a slasher who can create shots for himself in any number of ways. He attacks the rim and doesn’t shy away from contact, and at times during the season he showed flashes of being a truly ferocious finisher. That said, he’s a below average passer and can flat-out be a liability as a perimeter defender. Scouts have pointed to the fact that Young displays poor fundamentals on the defensive side of the ball and often “plays on his heels.” The team at DraftExpress summarizes the concerns beautifully in the video below at the 5:05 mark: “[Young] struggles containing penetration. Teams attacked him repeatedly. Doesn’t get over screens. Can he stay on the floor in the NBA?” That’s a pretty big question mark for a player who is projected as a lottery pick.
But what you have to remember about Young — and what creates such a conundrum for teams like the Nuggets who might consider drafting him — is that he may only be scratching the surface of his talent. At just 18 years old, he has plenty of time to develop into a good, if not great, player. You can see the potential shine through; there were multiple games last season where Young single-handedly kept Kentucky in tight games. He doesn’t shy away from a challenge or shrink in the spotlight, and those are qualities that can’t be taught.
If he ends up in the right situation, with a franchise that is willing to swallow a little pride and send a lottery pick to the D-League for a season or two so he has a chance to work on his craft, Young could turn out to be a special player. But I worry that Young may be expecting success to come a little sooner — there were rumors during his college recruitment process that he was determined to attend a school that would provide the quickest route to the NBA, he chose Jay Z’s Roc Nation Sports as his agency representation, and he’s famously been spotted sitting court-side with Rihanna at Game 3 of the New Jersey Nets-Toronto Raptors playoff game back in April. None of which means he’s a bad kid, just that he may be a little too concerned about living the life of an NBA all-star before he becomes one. It’s not fair to judge a kid his age for soaking in the limelight a little bit (who among us wouldn’t do the same if we were in his shoes?), but something tells me he might not be dying to grind it out in the minors for a couple of years.
Plus, I worry that he would get bored in Denver. He strikes me as a player who loves the bright lights, and Nuggets fans know better than anybody that, while the fans in Denver are the best in the world and Colorado is literally the closest you will ever come to heaven on earth, it doesn’t offer the same “center of the universe” feel found in larger markets like New York, L.A., Chicago, or Miami. If the Nuggets call his name on June 26 and he turns out to be a star, I worry we may have another Melo situation on our hands when he decides he wants to ditch this pond for a bigger lake where he can make waves.
The bottom line is someone is going to gamble on selecting Young, and rightly so, because his ceiling could be skyscraper-high. But as a Nuggets fan, I just can’t convince myself that Denver should be the franchise that rolls the dice on him.
(And remember that I say this as someone who also considers himself to be part of Kentucky’s Big Blue Nation, for whatever that’s worth.)
What do you think, Nuggets fans? Are you dazzled by James Young’s raw talent and potential, or do you think spending a lottery pick on him is too risky? Share your thoughts in the comments below or get at me on Twitter @TheSEShepherd.