Trae Young may have the stat line, but is Devonte’ Graham more valuable?
Trae Young’s numbers are gaudy, his performances are impressive and he will likely sweep National Player of the Year awards. Young posted a career-high on Saturday but still failed in the most critical category: the win column. His late-game shot selection and inefficient shooting (35.9%) left Oklahoma on the wrong side of a court storming at Oklahoma State.
Meanwhile, Devonte’ Graham produced a very different road result in Morgantown last week. While he may have only scored 16 points to Young’s 48, Graham made 55.6% of his shots and was the key to the Jayhawks overcoming a 16-point deficit. Posing the question: who is truly the most valuable to his team?
While the fact that Young is statistically outpacing Graham in every individual category (besides free throw percentage) cannot be disputed, a valid argument exists to suggest that less-quantifiable attributes make Devonte’ a better teammate and greater asset in the college game. Graham’s situational awareness continues to improve, as he is increasingly able to dictate the pace of play and shift the momentum of a contest. Trae Young on the other hand, while gifted and productive, at times relies too heavily on his own talents as many unseasoned guards do.
Graham embraces his leadership role and has three years of Big 12 play guiding his decision-making. His performance against West Virginia is the best illustration of how veteran college players are simply better equipped to weather the pressure. Young looked rattled down the stretch against the Cowboys, whereas Graham brought his best game in the most crucial minutes versus the Mountaineers. No one blames a freshman for showing his youth, but the result of collegiate immaturity supports the need for four-year players to anchor a true contender. A one-and-done talent can be an incredibly beneficial asset for a team and coach, but a young star is ultimately best utilized flanked by senior leadership. Oklahoma lives and dies by Trae Young, while KU relies on Graham but does not necessarily need him to lead all scorers. This is perhaps the big difference between Oklahoma in fifth place and Kansas holding the top spot in the Big 12.
Graham is able to focus on his own production and also guide his teammates, a skill he has developed over a career. Trae Young simply does not have the mileage at this level to strike as delicate a balance. Being one of the most skilled players does not insulate Young from growing pains, especially on the road.
The magnitude of the moment will only grow as March approaches. Young may never fully go cold, but he will continue to feel the rising heat. At the same time, Graham seems to be hitting his stride and becoming MORE comfortable in his position of prominence. Although dropping nearly 50 brings media attention, Graham’s body of work brings greater confidence that he can lead the Jayhawks to victory even in the most charged environments. Trae Young has drawn comparisons to Steph Curry in his Davidson days. Maybe Devonte’ Graham is more Mario Chalmers than Steph Curry, and only one of those players has an NCAA title.