It all starts with Trae Young in the Steph Curry role. The Lilliputian floor general recovered from a shaky start to his first season to finish second in Rookie of the Year voting, just as Curry did in 2009-10. Comparing their rookie year stats uncovers some unsurprising trends; Curry shot better from three and had a higher effective field goal percentage while ranking higher in rebounding and most defensive metrics. Young scored more points, had a higher usage percentage and logged more assists while getting to the free throw line more often than rookie Steph. However, the pair were within 10 percentage points of each other in most statistical categories and turned in surprisingly similar rookie campaigns on teams that won fewer than 30 games.
It’s not about Young becoming the next Curry; the two are stylistically different. A peek at NBA.com advanced statistics reveals Curry took considerably more midrange shots and assisted jumpers as a rookie while Young got into the lane more often and tended to create his own shot off the dribble. That said, Young and Curry fill similar roles; confident, elite spot-up shooters (Curry was in the 93.5 percentile in that category last year while Young ranked in the 89) you want taking the last shot and can trust to play the floor general role running an offense.
For Young, the keys to filling the Curry mold more effectively are two-fold. He must find more consistency as a shooter; Young only made 10 fewer threes than Curry did as a rookie, but on 102 more attempts. More importantly, he must improve defensively. Curry is no Pat Beverly, but Young was one of the league’s worst defenders last season. He has the quickness to be serviceable but lacks the technique and adding some muscle to his wiry frame would also help. That said, Young hit plenty of clutch shots, broke off some mind-bending dribble combinations and demonstrated enough in-season growth that it’s hard not to be excited about his potential as a point guard in the modern NBA.
For the Klay Thompson role, the Hawks have Kevin Huerter. This may be the biggest stretch of the bunch, but generational shooters who also play all-NBA defense don’t grow on trees. However, Huerter and Thompson also posted comparable rookie year stat lines while playing similar minutes on bad teams. Thompson edged the Maryland product in most areas, but Huerter shot a better effective field goal percentage and logged more rebounds and assists. He also shot and made more threes, but Thompson’s percentage was better.
There’s no perfect fit for the Draymond Green role, but John Collins appears best equipped to try. Collins, an offense-first power forward, and Green, a defensive-minded junkyard dog in the frontcourt, predictably outperformed each other in their areas of expertise; Collins dominated the offensive metrics in 2018-19 while Green was the superior defender. Green also distributed at a much, much higher rate, but Collins pulled down more offensive and total rebounds.
Green is the perfect unsung player for the Golden State offense and an underrated distributor of the ball, but Collins can shoot the three better (35% last season) and has nightly double-double potential. Of course, he must improve his passing and make large strides as a defender to even garner consideration as a player in the mold of Green.
Collins has the athleticism to become a solid defender if he works on his technique and recognition skills, but he has plenty of time to take those steps. Though the Green comparisons aren’t a perfect fit in 2019, Collins has the tools and the mindset to continue the conversation as he matures.
Of course, the Hawks are a few years away from being a finished product, and there are two more factors to consider. One is head coaching; Steve Kerr often gets overlooked because of the talent at his disposal, but he designed a system that kept the ball moving and everyone (mostly) happy for five years. Lloyd Pierce changed his stripes a bit in his first year in Atlanta, shifting his focus from defensive savant to a coach trying to instill confidence in a young team by allowing them to solidify their strengths rather than get bogged down in schematics.