If there were a sixth man in the NBA who appeared in every one of the season’s 82 games, but was only on the floor about half the time throughout those contests despite averaging 13/5, with .541/.707 and more than a steal every time out, the first thing you’d say is, “Adam, why all the secrecy? We all know from the title these are Thaddeus Young‘s stats.” And before I could recover, you’d follow up with, “Oh yeah, and why is he only playing 26 minutes a contest?” There we go. That’s more like it. I figured you’d lead with the minutes per game thing. Then you’d ask, “Is ‘Thaddeus’ a family name passed down from generation to generation? Because it really seems like an old-timey name – kinda sad, really. Or thad, if you have a speech impediment.” Then I’d dumbfoundedly blink at you like I just got mule kicked by a … well, a mule, I guess. By now I’ve gotten the duct tape out, applied it to your mouth and have prepared to tell you why Young should be a huge fantasy basketball sleeper in 2011.
Of the more than 450 active basketball players in the league, there are exactly two players who, in a single season, have played more than 2,000 minutes, started fewer than five games, ended with a PER greater than 18.4 and were younger than 23 when they did it. Young is the first. A dozen years ago, a 19-year-old Kobe Bryant was the other. That’s it. No one else. Before we go any further, no, I’m not claiming Young is or will ever be Bryant. The next year, when Bryant turned 20, he started every game and averaged 20/5/4 in the lockout-shortened season. Young won’t average those numbers. The caveat in these stats isn’t the exceptional PER of both players, or the age, or the minutes. There were 70 other players who fit that triplet of criteria. It’s the games started. Bryant was in his sophomore year at 19. Young just finished up his fourth year at 22. This alone suggests we’re comparing apples to slightly bruised plums here, but still … Young was in serious contention (statistically) for this year’s Sixth Man Award and might have been a bigger part of the conversation had he appeared more often than 13 minutes a half. He was versatile all season, playing 2/3 of his time at the four and the other third as Philly’s swingman and it’s that versatility likely to earn Young more minutes in 2011 (this could easily happen in the following two ways: 1) Philly drops Iguodala’s 37 mpg from last year in hopes of keeping him healthy, 2) Brand plays more center, leaving fewer minutes for Spencer Hawes, who couldn’t score a bucket if he walked into a KFC and threw a fifty on the counter). I don’t think Young plays a ton more minutes per game, probably about six. But even if his 2010 per minute averages remain locked in next year, Young would still jump from 13/5/1, with a steal to 16/6/1, with an extra steal every four games. Add in his .508/.716 career averages with almost certain upside to produce better than that, and you’ve got yourself a 10th round pick that a lot of people won’t be looking at until after the 12th.