At Mitchell High School, Thaddeus Young became a McDonald's All-American and one of the top players in the nation. At Georgia Tech, he was a one-and-done freshman who started every game and led the Yellow Jackets in scoring. Throughout his 15-year NBA career, he’s been a key piece every season (even starting 22 games and averaging 21.0 minutes as a rookie on the Philadelphia 76ers).
That’s why this season with the San Antonio Spurs has been so frustrating for Young, who’s playing just 15.6 minutes per game — while averaging 7.3 points, 3.6 rebounds, 2.9 assists and a steal (and shooting 59.6% from the field). Over the last two weeks, Young has barely played for the Spurs:
“Right now, this situation is not ideal for me,” Young said on The Alex Kennedy Podcast. “I’ve never been in a situation where I’ve had to settle for 4 and 6 minutes a game.”
Last season, Young had one of the most productive seasons of his career with the Chicago Bulls, averaging 12.1 points, 6.2 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 1.1 steals and 0.6 blocks while winning the NBA's Hustle Award in 2020-21. He appeared in 68 of 72 games (including 23 starts) and averaged 24.3 minutes. However, Chicago dealt him to San Antonio as part of the DeMar DeRozan sign-and-trade (a move that totally blindsided Young).
“It’s super tough. It’s very tough and frustrating at times,” Young said. “But at the end of the day, I understand where this franchise is going and I understand what’s happening — the young guys have to play. Whatever happens, happens. It’s just a matter of trusting in my faith and trusting in my craft and trusting in the time that I put into the game each and every day. I’m a 15-year veteran and I’m still one of the last to leave the gym and I’m still showing up early, putting in a lot of time and a lot of work.
“If I’m not playing in games, then I have to figure out some way to stay in shape, so I’ve been doing my after-the-game conditioning as well as showing up early for three-on-three sessions. I’m not supposed to be playing those three-on-three sessions because I’m a vet, but in order to stay in shape, I have to do something. So I’m playing in three-on-three sessions with the younger guys and some of the coaches and just trying to keep my feel for the game and timing.”
Young is very confident that he can still be a significant contributor, especially after how productive he was last season in Chicago.
“I’m still able to go out there and play at a super-high level and [have that] consistency. For me, it’s just a matter of getting minutes,” Young said. “If I get a certain amount of minutes, then I’m able to be consistent — as consistent as I’ve been in [recent] years. So far this season, I haven’t really played as much as I’ve played in the past. But with the time that I have been given, I’ve been productive... If I’m able to play a certain amount of minutes per game, then I feel like I can continue to be as consistent as I’ve been for years, and for many more years to come.”
San Antonio has been prioritizing their young core as of late, giving minutes to wings Keldon Johnson (22 years old), Keita Bates-Diop (25), Devin Vassell (21), Lonnie Walker IV (22), Drew Eubanks (24) and Josh Primo (18).
Young has talked to the team’s decision-makers about his playing time, but he also gets that the 6-13 Spurs are in the midst of a rebuild, so they must play the younger guys — to further their development and have an opportunity to evaluate them.
“I mean, obviously, the young guys, they have to play, they are going to play and they are going to be here,” Young said. “I have had conversations with them about playing time and stuff like that. But at the end of the day, we’re going through a rebuild situation where the young guys have to play and I understand that. Whenever I can go out there and play, I’m gonna go out there and play. I don’t make the decisions on who plays and who doesn’t, so I’m just gonna control what I can control.”
While he admits that the situation isn’t ideal, Young doesn’t want his frustration over his playing time to affect any of his teammates or rock the boat.
“Whatever happens with me is what’s happening with me…” Young said. “My sh*t is my sh*t; I wouldn’t put that on my teammates. That’s something that I have to deal with, and I just try to control what I can control and focus on what I can focus on when I do get [playing] time and when I am out on the court with those guys. My ultimate goal is to remain focused on what I can do and whatever happens, happens at that point. I just gotta go out and just continue to focus in, lock in. The one thing I can say is that I’ve always remained professional...
“The one thing I’ve prided myself on is just continuing to be professional and making sure that if I’m part of a team, I’m part of that team. I’m not one foot in and one foot out. If I’m putting on that jersey and they’re paying me and they’re putting their trust in me, I’m going to make sure that I’m there for them. I think that’s one of the biggest things.”
The Spurs have 11 players who are age-25 or younger, and they are the NBA's seventh-youngest team (with an average age of 24.7). The 33-year-old Young is the oldest player on the roster and the only player who is in his 30s.
“Sometimes you do feel like you’re playing with some kids,” Young said with a laugh when asked about the age gap. “But at the end of the day, just understanding where you are [in life] and where they are, I don’t think it’s hard for us to relate because we’re all basketball players. I think the biggest difference is that I’m older and have a family, and a lot of guys on the team haven’t hit that stage yet. But there was a point in time when I was younger and didn’t have a family, where I was able to relate to those guys more. But it’s all about basketball, it’s all about coming in and making sure that we’re all getting the same work in and doing things so that we can grow together as a team. I think that’s the main focus each and every day.”