Last summer the fear was that Thad Young would show sudden improvement in his walk year. Improvement to the point where the Sixers would feel obligated to sign him to a lucrative extension or watch him walk away in restricted free agency. It was a fear because it's hard to trust a sudden bump in production in the year prior to free agency immediately following a couple of lackluster seasons with very little growth. Let's see if that fear came true.
Here's my preseason prediction for Thad. And now the numbers:
Thad bounced back in a big way, pretty much across the board this season. It was almost as if his sophomore and junior seasons never happened and he picked up right where he left off as a rookie.
In terms of his play, I think probably owes more to Doug Collins than anyone else. Collins looked at Thad's game, on both ends of the floor, and put him in the absolute perfect position to succeed. On the offensive end, Thad's jumper was far from broken, but it wasn't really a weapon either. He was clearly at his best when he was working on the inside, or working from 17 feet in, where he could make an explosive move and get to the rim. Collins took the three out of Thad's arsenal and played him almost exclusively at the four. This put bigger, slower defenders on him. Then Collins ran actual plays for Thad to get him the ball, facing the hoop, where he could use his explosive quickness to penetrate. He completely simplified the game for Thad, created a mismatch for him nearly every time he stepped on the floor, and ran plays to take advantage of that mismatch.
On the defensive end, Thad's problem has always stemmed from over-helping. He gets lost on rotations and shooters kill him. That's just a fact. Collins responded to this by keeping Thad at the four where he was rarely covering shooters. Collins' defensive scheme of sticking to shooters on the outside and avoiding situations which called for rotations worked in Thad's favor as well. He could stay home on his man, lag off on the pick-and-roll for the most part. Defense was made very simple for Thad and he was rarely put in situations where his weakness was exposed.
In hindsight, I don't think the bump in production for Thad was a result of extra monetary motivation in his walk year, I think it was a case of Collins creating the perfect situation for him. Now the question becomes how much is he worth? To answer that question, I think we first have to set realistic expectations. Within the role Collins created for him, Thad can be great. Thad can win games for you. To accurately assess his value, you really need to put a dollar amount on the impact that role has on winning games. That's his worth. If the Sixers can honestly do that, they'll either sign him to a decent deal or they'll let him walk. If, on the other hand, they look at his production in this tailor-made role and think he can reproduce it given starter's minutes at the three or the four, I think they'll wind up overpaying him and regretting it in the long term.
Thad can be great when he's doing what Collins asks, partially because Collins only asks him to do what he's great at. $11M/year and asking more of him is a recipe for disaster, though.