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What Phoenix Suns can expect from Thaddeus Young

Gerald Bourguet Avatar
February 13, 2024
Thaddeus Young is joining the Phoenix Suns after receiving a buyout

Coming off a quietly resurgent season with the Chicago Bulls back in 2020-21, Thaddeus Young to the Phoenix Suns felt like a distinct possibility. Fast-forward to 2024, and the Suns got a guy they’ve had on their radar for years now.

As first reported by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Suns are finalizing a deal with Young, who was recently traded from the Toronto Raptors to the Brooklyn Nets and subsequently waived.

Because his $8 million contract prior to being bought out was lower than the $12.4 million threshold for teams above the second tax apron, the Suns are able to sign him to a full roster spot for the veteran minimum.

Phoenix had two roster spots open after sending out Keita Bates-Diop, Chimezie Metu, Jordan Goodwin and Yuta Watanabe in their trade for Royce O’Neale and David Roddy, so Young fills one of those two remaining spots.

When asked about what the Suns were targeting on the buyout market with those open spots last week, general manager James Jones answered coyly, “More shooting, more defense, more passing, more rebounding.”

Funnily enough, his intentionally vague answer foreshadowed the addition of Thaddeus Young in three out of the four categories he listed (with shooting obviously the lone exclusion).

The question is, what does the 35-year-old have left in the tank? Some things have changed since we originally visited this idea back in 2021, but just like we did with Royce O’Neale, it’s time to break down Young’s game and set realistic expectations for him in Phoenix.

Thaddeus Young and small-ball versatility

There’s no question Thaddeus Young brings lineup versatility to the table. At 6-foot-8, with a near 7-foot wingspan, he can be deployed as a small-ball 5, where he’s spent 84 percent of his minutes this season, per Cleaning The Glass.

There’s no question Young will limit the spacing of lineups where he’s playing the 4, since he’s a career 32.8 percent shooter from long range who’s 1-for-6 from deep this season. But the Suns have more than enough offensive firepower and floor-spacing shooters to help make up for that, and having Young as another switchable option at center gives Frank Vogel more versatility on both ends.

Young is no spring chicken at age 35. But that experience certainly adds to this team’s already impressive basketball IQ, given that Young has been in the league for 18 seasons now and played in over 1,100 regular-season games. He’s only appeared in 57 playoff games (for reference, Devin Booker already has 43 to his name), but Young is an intelligent two-way player who can help in a pinch.

In just 23 appearances for the Raptors this season, Young only averaged 5.0 points, 3.3 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 0.8 steals, but that well-rounded production came in just 15.2 minutes per game.

Whether he actually cracks the Suns’ eight- or nine-man playoff rotation remains to be seen, but Young adds size and physicality to a roster that tried to address some of those problem areas at the trade deadline. He also offers an alternative look at center for the matchups where Jusuf Nurkic and Drew Eubanks won’t cut it.

Defensively, Young is not much of a rim protector. According to, opponents actually shoot 3.8 percent better at the rim when defended by Young than they’d normally shoot. For reference, opponents shoot 6.6 percent worse against Nurkic and 6.5 percent worse against Eubanks at the rim.

But the Suns aren’t signing Thad Young to be a shot-blocking rim deterrent; they’re adding him to lend another switchable, high-IQ player to their frontcourt rotation. Between O’Neale and Young, Vogel now has extra versatility, size and physicality at his disposal when he wants to go small, sparing Kevin Durant from being the only small-ball 5 option on the roster.

And although Young may not be much of a rim protector, he’s active elsewhere defensively. His 2.3 steal percentage ranks in the 98th percentile at his position, per Cleaning The Glass, and The BBall Index also places him in the 94th percentile in deflections per 75 possessions.

Young’s peak athleticism is behind him, but he’s still capable of jumping passing routes like a safety, pouncing on ball-handlers when he senses weakness with their handle, or holding his own against bigger players trying to post him up before poking the ball away:

Again, Young is hardly a defensive stalwart at this point, but switchability is king come playoff time. Having another guy with size, length and intelligence who can capably switch as part of the Suns’ playoff rotation is a welcome addition, and it checks a lot of boxes this team would’ve struggled to fill elsewhere on the buyout market.

Thaddeus Young, offensive connector

As a scorer, Young is an efficient, low-usage option. He’s shooting 62.1 percent from the floor this season, and according to, 72 of his 87 shot attempts have come from inside of 8 feet from the basket.

That’s perfectly fine, since the Suns have enough firepower as it is. Young is efficient on his limited looks in the paint, ranking in the 80th percentile in shots at the rim per 75 possessions, as well as field goal percentage at the rim (67.9 percent).

Cleaning The Glass also places him in the 94th percentile in his efficiency on shots in the short midrange (4-14 feet from the basket), so he’s capable of finishing plays when he gets in the paint. He’s not shy about putting his shoulder in someone’s chest and finishing through contact, showcasing decent footwork on his rolls and a serviceable hook shot after he clears out some space:

On limited possessions, Young finishes on the break, ranking in the 96th percentile in points per possession in transition. He’s also in the 98th percentile in cuts per game and the 85th percentile in field-goal percentage off cuts — useful off-ball traits on a team that has so many active threats like the Big 3, Grayson Allen and Eric Gordon.

Much like Royce O’Neale, one of Young’s most underrated traits is his passing ability. And much like Jusuf Nurkic, Young is very much a James Jones type of connector on offense, capably distributing in the short roll or from the perimeter while everyone else cuts and screens every which way.

Just as we covered two-and-a-half years ago, Young is still a smart, capable playmaker who moves the ball where it needs to go. He’s averaged 5.1 assists per 36 minutes this season, and his 18.0 assist percentage ranks in the 84th percentile at his position, per Cleaning The Glass. Thanks to his low number of turnovers, Young places in the 95th percentile in turnover percentage and the 98th percentile in assist-to-usage ratio.

When he catches the ball in the short roll, Young knows how to spray the ball back out the 3-point shooters, and he can also thread the needle for easy dump-offs on the interior:

Most of his assists come from handoff scenarios, but that’s a positive for a team that can put Devin Booker, Kevin Durant or Bradley Beal in those situations. Young ranks in the 91st percentile in screen assists, speaking to how well he’ll be able to free up his superstar teammates for advantageous looks.

That’s especially important considering how often he facilitates from the top of the key or the elbows. Young is similar to Nurkic in this regard, since he can find open guys off split cuts, zipping on-target bounce passes to backdoor cutters from either spot on the floor:

Young may not be a perimeter threat as a scorer, but if defenders sag off him too far, he can make them pay with the pass. All the attention on the Big 3, Allen, Gordon and the rest of the Suns’ shooting threats will help Young locate those openings and distribute the ball accordingly.

He’s done well with that in his limited minutes this year, placing in the 92nd percentile in role-adjusted assist points per 75 possessions, as well as the 86th percentile in passing creation quality.

Reasonable expectations for Thaddeus Young

Is Thaddeus Young a sure fire addition to the Suns’ playoff rotation? Certainly not. But he’s about as close as one could reasonably expect from the buyout market, especially for a team that already has seven playoff rotation spots set in stone between the Big 3, Nurk, Allen, Gordon and O’Neale.

Young is no stranger to doing the dirty work, and this will be the best team he’s played on in his lengthy career. That alone should fire him up for whatever minutes he gets, and his work on the glass shouldn’t go overlooked on a team like this. Young’s 51.4 contested rebounding percentage would lead all Suns players, and his placement in the 83rd percentile in offensive rebounds per 75 possessions could help generate extra possessions for this high-powered offense.

It’ll be interesting to see how much Young has left in the tank and whether he’s usable in a playoff setting. But considering the limited options on the buyout market, and the need for an alternative option at center, this is one of the best possible swings Phoenix could have taken. Even in a reduced role, Young could help address the Suns’ need for additional size, physicality, basketball IQ, defensive versatility and offensive connectivity all in one fell swoop.

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