The Advanced Analytics Love Thaddeus Young (And So Do I)

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The Advanced Analytics Love Thaddeus Young (And So Do I)

Chicago Bulls

Thaddeus Young is playing some of the best basketball of his career this season, and that’s not usually the case for a 32-year-old role-playing veteran who recently had his long-time career as a starter moved to the bench.

Of course, I think it’s fair to say Bulls fans expected a step in the right direction for Young under head coach Billy Donovan. After all, Young was pretty grossly misused during the 2019-20 campaign.

Under a head-coach-that-shall-not-be-named, Young put up his second-most 3-point attempts in a season (35%), after a previous high of 21% during the 2013-14 campaign. That figure has dropped all the way down to 11 percent this season, as he is now shooting the vast majority of his shots at the rim (49%) or in the short-mid section (37%) – between 4 and 14 ft of the basket.

How do we know this is a better choice? Easy. We (1) have actual brains and (2) the numbers very much back it up. Young is converting at a 56 percent clip in the “short-mid” area of the court, which places him in the 86th percentile, per Cleaning the Glass. Likewise, his 71 percent clip at the rim sits in the 71st percentile. His success from these areas of the court have bumped his effective field goal percentage up to 60.6 percent (75th percentile) from a disappointing 51.6 percent (21st percentile) in 2019-20. Good stuff.

Aside from the scoring improvements noted above, Young’s biggest improvement has come from facilitating the basketball. Donovan’s new motion offense puts all of his players’ basketball IQ to the test, and Young is passing with flying colors. Get it? Passing? Yuk-yuk-yuk-yuk.

The big man is averaging a career-high 4.4 assists per game, and his AST% (percentage of shots Young assisted on while on the court) sits at 23.3 percent (94th percentile!). He continuously finds cutting teammates and open shooters, as he already has eight games with 5 or more assists this season after having just one in 2019-20. Combine this breakout playmaking ability with his increasingly efficient shooting and already solid defense, and there is no surprise that Young is getting rave reviews from some popular NBA metrics.

According to FiveThirtyEight’s RAPTOR, which calculates a player’s individual box plus-minus and wins above replacement, Young is by far the best all-around player on the court. He checks in with a 5.1 overall RAPTOR with a team-high 2.0 WAR. The number gives Young the 21st-highest total RAPTOR in the NBA.

Bounce over to The Basketball Index’s LEBRON metric, and we see similarly positive representation for Young. The algorithm is supposed to estimate a player’s impact relative to his role, but I’ll let the folks over at BBall Index do the talking: “LEBRON evaluates a player’s contributions using the box score (weighted using boxPIPM’s weightings stabilized using Offensive Archetypes) and advanced on/off calculations (using Luck-Adjusted RAPM methodology) for a holistic evaluation of player impact per 100 possessions on-court.”

For a complete look at how they come up with their data (as well as a bunch of other cool stuff), make sure to click here.

Anyway, Young’s LEBRON currently sits at 1.36, which sandwiches him between productive role players like the Clippers’ Patrick Beverley (1.39) and the Bucks Donte DiVincenzo (1.32). What is even more impressive, though, is to see the improvement in Young’s LEBRON from one season to the next. BBall Index shared the list of NBA players whose impact, according to LEBRON, has risen or fallen the most from the 2019-20 season.

Young’s impact has apparently seen the largest increase on the offensive end in the league (+2.88) and the third-largest overall (+3.06).

Look, I know all these numbers and weird stats can be confusing – let alone have their limitations. However, when we can look across the board and see Young’s name continue to come up, the general conclusion we can draw is actually simple: The guy is playing really freakin’ well.

Young may not be the team’s best or most talented player, but he is thriving in a perfectly defined role and demonstrating to teams across the league that he can play winning basketball. And that’s why it should not at all be surprising that The Chicago Sun-Times’ Joe Cowley reported the other day that Young is “drawing the most interest” in the Bulls-specific trade market.

In today’s advanced analytics-driven league, it should not be ignored that Young is checking all the right boxes. Executives for contending teams are going to look for those kinds of players around the trade deadline, and the higher his value looks on paper, the greater return the Bulls might be able to get for him in March.



Author: Elias Schuster

Elias Schuster is a writer for Bleacher Nation and a human being. You can follow him on Twitter @Schuster_Elias.