I don’t need to tell you this, but Thaddeus Young is playing some tremendous basketball this season.
The veteran forward is arguably the Bulls second-best player (and a rising Sixth Man of the Year candidate). Indeed, he’s been SUCH a pivotal part of this team’s success, that what was originally a given has become a rather tough decision. Yes, we’re talking about a trade.
Prior to the season, just about anyone would’ve suggested the Bulls should trade Young for the best offer whenever that deal came around. He was clearly still a useful player, but one that didn’t align with the Bulls long-term plans and didn’t impact winning enough in the short-term to justify keeping around. But while the first part of that still might be true, the latter has completely changed.
This season, Young’s on/off differential sits at +14.9 points, which ranks in the 96th percentile, per Cleaning the Glass. The team’s offensive rating is at 116 when Young is on the court and drops to 105.4 when he’s off. Even more important, when Young shares the floor with the Bulls best player, LaVine, the team becomes that much better. The LaVine-Young two-man combination nets the Bulls +11.0 in points, +5.7 in assists, and +5.4 in total rebounding percentage, Per Basketball-Reference.
We can go further into the ridiculous splits in another post, but let’s get back to the broader point. Young is helping this team win more games, and I can’t help but wonder how much that weighs on the minds of the front office. On the one hand, we can say that it’s not all too encouraging that the Bulls need Young to play this big of a role to have this kind of success. On the other hand, we can say that this is exactly what veterans are supposed to do, and the more winning he helps generate, the more players could develop.
It’s simple to say that since Young isn’t going to play a substantial role on a vastly improved playoff Bulls team three years down the road that you should trade him for the best return offered. I get that. But I also can’t help but wonder if simply winning more games right now can prove to be more valuable than a late first-round pick or another young player with which some contending team is comfortable parting ways. For years, the Bulls have tried to develop their young talent while winning no more than 22 games. I don’t know about you, but I think it can be hard to teach winning ways when there is no winning happening. Now, the Bulls have some veterans and a head coach that puts them in a position to win games, and we have seen some of our best basketball from guys like Zach LaVine, Wendell Carter Jr., and (smaller sample size) Lauri Markkanen. Coincidence? Probably not.
So while Young might be playing an annoyingly large role in the Bulls success right now, that doesn’t mean he’ll have to do it later. He is helping the organization establish a more prevalent winning culture and show young players what it takes to win at a more consistent level.
LaVine called him the MVP of the team, Carter Jr. credited him for helping him improve his offensive game, and The Athletic’s Shams Charania said the following on 670 The Score the other day:
“One thing I have heard is that the Bulls value, even more than Thad Young’s play on the court, his leadership off of it. I think last year was a difficult year for him under Jim Boylen – a difficult year for this entire franchise – but this year, seeing Thad Young’s impact I’m told behind the scenes, it’s probably been ever greater than his on-court play.”
Trading Young would set this team back on and off the court. I’ll fully admit that we have to weigh the potential long-term impact here, and if the Bulls get a “holy sh*t” offer for him, they’ll probably have to take it. But I’ve also always been of the belief that a spoonful of winning can sometimes be the best medicine. Not only would competing for a playoff or play-in spot this season be a valuable learning experience for the Bulls super young roster, but it would set a new bar for the organization as a whole. Instead of building on nothing, they would be building on something.
And to be clear, I don’t think this would make the Bulls complacent with consistently grabbing a bottom playoff seed. I think the new front office would rather view it as a strong start and still make all the necessary changes they can to push the team forward. I mean, making the playoffs in your first season in town with a new head coach and a very young roster could make their vision for what they need to do to create a true contender that much clearer.
I guess, for me, it just comes down to finally winning some basketball games, and Young helps this team accomplish that. Zach needs it. Wendell needs it. Patrick needs it. Coby needs it. Lauri needs it. Does the front office need it?