Thaddeus Young’s value to the Raptors is evident on the pitch, but will live on beyond his tenure with the franchise

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Thaddeus Young entered the interview room at Scotiabank Arena late Saturday afternoon. His two sons, Thaddeus Jr. and Taylor, followed closely behind him. A moment later, Young popped a few questions about one of his teammates, who only has a decade or so on his kids.

Life, one imagines, rushes by for Young.

“Obviously he didn’t do much, but he came back, supplied his energy, picked up the basketball, picked up rebounds, helped us defensively (meant a lot to the Raptors),” Young, the oldest raptor at 33, said of Scottie Barnes, the youngest Raptor at 20. “He’s a solid basketball player. He understands the game and he’s a special basketball player. Some of the things he can do given his size and skill set will keep him in this league for a long, long time.

“I am delighted that he has become Rookie of the Year. I am proud of him. It’s only been a short time to be with him and talk to him, but I remember about two or three weeks ago when they started talking about rookie of the year, I was like, ‘You did not given it to you yet?’ ”

The debate over the award has been more nuanced than that, as evidenced by the narrowest difference between winner and runner-up in two decades, but Young’s general point is clear: Barnes will make a contribution to the Raptors for years to come. At least that’s the plan. We could say the same thing about Young, but it certainly won’t be obvious.

First things first, Young did more than Barnes, and perhaps more than anyone outside of Pascal Siakam, to extend the Raptors’ streak to Game 5 with a win on Saturday. Young was a game-high plus-14 in nearly 30 minutes, more playing time than the first three games of the series combined. He contributed in a variety of ways, from a three-pointer to a quartet of offensive rebounds — just two fewer than the Sixers as a team — to providing a credible defense from Joel Embiid when both Khem Birch and Precious Achiuwa were on the bench.

His intelligence on offense was most evident. He had five assists, which tied him with Siakam for team leadership, and many of those came against zone defenses. The Raptors averaged just .924 points per possession against Zones in the regular season, but this series it’s nearly 1.24 points per possession. Jung was the player who played the most on Saturday to the heart of the defence and read correctly. Whether against zone, man defense or in transitionYoung has an advanced feel for the game.

“I kind of did that, especially in the last four or five years, to have been out there as a guy who can calm everything when he’s running in the zone: blitz into the middle, stay balanced, play to the right,” said Young. “If there’s nothing, you can always throw the ball out and start over, so always be patient. That’s what gets us going, having that patience, having that attitude throughout the game of basketball.

Trading to get Young by deadline is complicated from a team building standpoint. Young is a post-season free agent, and while the Raptors could keep him with his Bird rights, they must take advantage of Chris Boucher’s free agency and desire to use the mid-level exception to also fill a more obvious need in the roster, juggle as a factor in potential long-term pay rises for their regulars in the years to come.

For simplicity, let’s assume that Young does not re-sign with Toronto. Young averaged 1.3 win percentages in 475 minutes of the regular season, helping to fill the void left by OG Anunoby, who missed most of the season after the deadline. He also just had a big role in a playoff game, which was cool and fun.

However, the value of this playoff series, no matter how long it lasts, will be mostly intrinsic. Young may have secured this team’s bottom, but he’s done very little for his top. Meanwhile, the Raptors were downgraded from their first-round pick, which finished 20th, to a second-round pick, which finishes 33rd overall. Specifics obviously vary, but based on history, this means the Raptors are going from roughly even odds between drafting a roleplayer and a deep-banker to a player probably a deep bank player with a solid chance of being a bust.

From a development perspective, trade seems short-sighted. Young teams, especially those who will have to give raises to a number of players over the coming years, need useful players with rookie deals to fill in gaps as the season progresses.

There’s an intangible value to having Young around — whether just for this season or longer — that will be meaningful to the handful of Raptors who are here for years to come.

“He’s the ultimate pro, right?” Siakam said. “See him every day, he comes in, does his job after he recovers. He’s just a pro with all of that. Having someone like him on our team is definitely a plus, and I just like the fact that… I don’t think he’s played that much on the series – obviously he’s had that (injury with) his finger – but only had the opportunity to come in and be ready, it shows how professional he is; He’s been in the league for a long time and knows what’s important.”

However, it’s not just the cliché of staying ready. It stays ready and knows what is particularly needed. While guarding Embiid, Young gave up four inches and 50 pounds.

“Have you ever seen two bears fight?” Young said he was guarding Embiid.

With this metaphor one must assume that Young was a comparatively emaciated bear.

“A guy who played in this league a long time ago told me, ‘Do your (defensive) work early, do your work early,’ and it would always work out for me,” Young said, referring to Aaron McKie, an assistant coach with the 76ers during Young’s early years in the NBA. “So I get on with my work early on, give him different looks on defence: up front, three quarters, play behind him and knock him off the block, make sure he catches the ball as much as possible.”

McKie was Young’s coach, but Raptors fans may remember him from the first Raptors 76ers series. McKie had a team-high 22 points in Game 7 of the 2001 Eastern Conference Semifinals, the game in which the Raptors did everything they could to make Allen Iverson a passer. If Barnes or Achiuwa or Anunoby cites a lesson they learned from Young three or five or ten years from now, then the math for trading looks a little different, doesn’t it?

(Photo: Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

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