Should Sam Stay Or Go Pro?

Sam Young, without a doubt, is the Panthers most exciting and athletic player, but the question Pitt fans have to ask is should he leave for the NBA or stay and play? PantherDigest basketball guru The Chairman of the Board breaks it down with his thoughts.

I thought it would be fitting to talk about a topic that will come up many times over the next month and a half: Sam Young's pro prospects. People appear to be all over the place when discussing his pro chances; I, myself, believe that Young won't be back next year for a variety of reasons. That is not to say I think he will be an NBA player, because I am not quite sure . . . even though I am sure that if he leaves, at the least, he will be in an NBA camp and will get a great shot to make a team. Here are some of the reasons why I feel this way.

First, to be able to think about going pro, a player's game has to be considered. Young takes a lot of criticism about certain parts of his game. Honestly, a lot of criticism has come from me, but I think he has come far enough in the weak parts of his game that his weaknesses do not outweigh the good things that he does, especially when trying to translate them to the next level.

On his weaknesses: Young has two main weaknesses that immediately have jumped out at people in the past: his defense and his ball handling. I think Young has come forward greatly in both categories to the point where they translate well enough to the pro game.

Defensively, when trying to project a player to the next level, you have to ask, where will that player guard? Young's size when combined with his athleticism, Young will have to play the 2 or 3 in the NBA. Those are the only positions that really fit his profile and between the two positions, the 3 appears to be the most likely destination. So, the next question is, can Young guard the 3?

Young really struggles in team defense, which takes away from his man-to-man defensive skills. Young is actually a good man-to-man defender away and close to the basket. During his first year at Pittsburgh, he was awful on the perimeter, but last year, he was a little better when he wasn't hurt. This year, he has been much, much better. He has played some 3 and actually even guarded some guards and he has handled himself well. A great number of the players he has seen at the 4, meaning DeJuan Summers, J.R. Inman, Brian Laing, Lazar Hayward, Kyle Singler, etc, are really 4's on the college level that will play 3 (or maybe even 2 in some instances) on the next level.

I believe when you look at his man-to-man skills, they are good enough to play above and his athleticism helps him have the ability to improve greatly (the upside). He doesn't move his feet too well at points, but a lot of guys his size are the same way. As for the team D, I am of the opinion that he will pick up team D at the next level, because there, it is sink or swim and if he doesn't do so, he either won't play or won't make the team. Here, at Pitt, especially this year, unlike the last two, he doesn't have anyone challenging him for minutes because Pitt doesn't have anyone that plays overly great defensively. At the next level, he will not have that luxury.

As for the ball handling, over the last quarter of the season, he has really improved. He can drive both ways. He has a good left hand in the half court. He has figured out how to not travel (for the most part) and he even has shown some breakdown skills. He clearly gets better every game. When you have Young's type of athleticism and size, you don't necessarily have to be a great ball handler. You have to be competent and not a turnover machine, but you don't have to be exceptional.

On his strengths: First question to ask about a player and his NBA prospects; is he athletic enough? Quick answer for Young = Yes.

What else does Young bring very positively to the table? Well, he is probably very suited to a game where shots have to go up every 24 seconds. It is a quicker game that requires players who can finish, make something out of nothing and play in transition. Young can do all those things very well. Young is an excellent finisher for the most part when he isn't trying to do too much. He is athletic enough that against other really athletic guys he can get off a wide array of shots. Young is not a one trick pony and is actually very crafty offensively. He can drive and finish with both hands and he can play in the air or on the ground. Also, he can run very well and is comfortable finishing a break, even though he isn't a great handler on the move.

Young has also improved his shot greatly. I think with his rotation and mechanics, he will never be a great shooter from deep at the next level, but he can hit some long range shots. And he is very consistent from the midrange.

Long range shots are entirely overrated anyway; I want you guys to look at these sets of numbers. First set = 28, 32, 30, Second set = 34, 34, 34, Third set = 43, 38, 33. These are all three point percentages over the past three years. The second sets of numbers are Kobe Bryant's, who is generally considered a great shooter. Bryant is the best scorer in the league . . . honestly, his numbers are skewed because he takes a lot of highly difficult shots at the end of the shot clock, but they still aren't great. As for the other two sets, they are both players that play similar type games as compared to Young, the first player is Gerald Wallace and the third player is Josh Howard. They both do pretty well without being great shooters or ball handlers either.

Another great thing about Young is that he appears to love basketball and is always working to improve. Young just keeps getting better from game to game (at the right time of year too) and he has the room to get better with the ball, in his decision-making and his defense. He is by no means tapped out in those areas. To better translate it, he has the upside that the pro guys like.

On his draft prospects: I personally believe that if he continues to play well here at Pitt, leaves early, keeps improving, and has a good showing in front of the NBA scouts, that he fits in the NBA draft anywhere from the 20's to the late 40's. He has the talent, he has the upside and I think that the scouts may really like how he translates upward. He is not an elite talent and does not have an elite ceiling in my view, but I think he is very good.

If the NBA were to pass over him in the draft, he would be in an NBA camp with a legitimate shot to make a team. And, he may just get a huge overseas offer that would cause him to avoid NBA camp. Young appears to me to be a guy who is not afraid of the unconventional route. I don't know if he would play D league for peanuts when he could make $200,000-$300,000 overseas.

On a possible return to Pitt: I don't think it would overly help his professional prospects. He is older, and with each passing year, his upside goes downward. I think coming back to school is a good idea for players who have something to learn in college that they just can't get in the pros, but there comes a point where a player has nothing more left for the college game to school him in . . . I think Young is at that point.

He isn't going to get much better defensively, or at least, he could learn just as effectively above as he would at Pitt. I think he is a capped ball handler. He will never be great in my view. I think the skills he has now are enough and with continued improvement he should be just fine. The mechanics of his shot limit the shot. Practice can make it competent (like it already has), but staying around a year isn't going to make him a much better shooter either. He is a good enough shooter already too.

Young's big ticket is his athleticism . . . and it isn't going to be around forever. It is better for him to take advantage of it now, while he can.

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