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Oklahoma Will Be Better Off Without Trae Young

It’s rare for a team to benefit from losing a top NBA prospect, but the Sooners needed it.

If I told you Oklahoma will be better off next season without their point guard Trae Young, the nation’s leader in points and assists per game, you might think I’m crazy. 

But this is more what I’d call crazy:

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It’s not so crazy to say the Sooners are better off without Young now, is it? Considering they won two of their last 10 games to finish 18-14 after a 14-2 start and then lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament to the Rhode Island Rams, you can see how it wouldn’t be very hard to have a better season next time around.

Because I’ve fallen victim to Trae’s star-power, this article will have two equally important sections: one devoted to explaining Trae’s crazy season and its effect on his team, and one on how the Sooners will be better moving forward.

Have You Heard Of This Trae Young Guy?

The Trae Young Show was fun for a while, but it’s not surprising he was figured out, which exposed the Sooners’ lack of depth. The Sooners brought on players this offseason that will make them a much more balanced team, and that’s important when you share a conference with programs such as Kansas and West Virginia. The post-Trae-Young era in Norman, Oklahoma might lack a superstar, but the team will be a team again.

Although Young got plenty of attention, the numbers show he was even more of a one-man show than he seemed to be. He took roughly 30 percent of all the Sooners’ shots for the year, and more than a third of the team’s shots while he was on the court. He was also used in 38.5 percent of the team’s possessions when in the game, the highest mark in college hoops.

While he was a great passer, the Sooner’s lacked an overall ball distribution scheme. If it didn’t go through Young, it didn’t go at all.

Young accounted for roughly a third of all the points the Sooners scored all season, and scored or assisted on about 57 percent of all their made field goals. Merriam-Webster defines the word ‘preposterous’ as something “contrary to nature, reason, or common sense.” Now let’s use it in a sentence. One player accounting for nearly 60 percent of a team’s offense is preposterous.

Young’s highlight reel from a March matchup with Oklahoma State in the Big XII tournament illustrates those numbers very well. Watch the other players on the court while Trae does his thing:

His teammates seem to forget that they are also Division I basketball players. They became glorified screen-setters, only working to find Trae open looks. Most of them also seem to forget how to dribble because when they actually get the ball they take one dribble and look for Young. It’s almost like Young is that one player on a pickup basketball team that takes every single shot, so his teammates just stand there watching.

There’s no denying Young’s talent, but relying so heavily on one player is not a sustainable strategy in a team sport. As good as Trae was last season, he was a black hole, absorbing possessions that were never to be seen again, often because of ill-advised 30-footers like this one:

While the analysis of that tweet is a tad harsh, you get the point: Trae made some pretty bad decisions and wasted a good amount of possessions, averaging over five turnovers per game.

That being said, I’m excited to see how Trae does in the NBA, where he’ll have teammates better than himself. I’m equally excited to see what Oklahoma can do with their new and returning players.

The Sooners Had At Least Four Other Players, And Now They’ll Use Them

Other than Young’s departure for the NBA, starting shooting guard Kameron McGusty and backup point guard Jordan Shepherd transferred. Those aren’t big losses though, as they contributed very few points and assists. What’s more important are the additions the Sooners made.

Graduate transfer guards Miles Reynolds from Pacific and Aaron Calixte from Maine are immediately eligible to play. They provide D-1 experience to a team that will need new leaders after Trae’s departure.

Reynolds and Calixte are solid scoring guards. Reynolds averaged over 13 points per game last year, and Calixte averaged nearly 17, albeit in weaker conferences compared to the Big XII.

At 5‘11”, Calixte is also surprisingly proficient at attacking the rim. Couple that aggressiveness with his nifty passing skills, and he shows a lot of the same craftiness that Young has, except he doesn’t drain NBA threes very often (although he shot the long ball at a 39 percent clip last season). 

Reynolds is an equally aggressive guard, and he has a little more size. He shot 38 percent from deep last season, which is actually two points higher than Young’s average (I know, right?). 

The experience and skill of this new graduate backcourt should do well in filling the void left by Young and McGusty, and they’ll probably be better decision-makers, too. The ball will move better with two veteran guards instead of one erratic superstar guard.

Along with Calixte and Reynolds, incoming freshman guard Jamal Bieniemy adds more size to the otherwise small backcourt. At 6‘4”, he’ll be a taller option at shooting guard that also plays great defense, rebounds, and can score in the paint.

And hey, what could be better for a freshman guard than two graduate mentors?

I’m excited to see what this trio of guards can accomplish together. They have all the pieces for a successful team now. Returning starters Christian James, Brady Manek, and Rashard Odomes will get more opportunities to show what they can do, instead of watching the Trae Young carousel go round and round.

It’s highly unlikely the Sooners go through a 2-8 stretch next season because they can now play together. Yes, they technically downgraded at the guard position. After all, Trae led the nation in points and assists, had a 22-assist game, and multiple 40-point games. He even earned the prestigious honor of KenPom’s Player of the Year.

There’s no doubt he’s hard to replace. But they added experience and evened out their talent. If we learned anything from Villanova this year, it’s that balanced teams win championships, and the Sooners just got a lot more balanced.

Edited by Jeremy Losak.

Trae Young's 22-assist game tied an NCAA record. Before Young, when was the record last matched?
Created 5/17/18
  1. 1966
  2. 1979
  3. 1989
  4. 2001

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