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Joe Young Broke The CBA. Will He Get A Second NBA Chance?

With the Chinese Basketball Association’s regular season over, it is time to look back at what former NBA player Joe Young did over there in what amounted to be a historical season that might lead him to a second chance in US soil.

2019/2020 CBA League - Zhejiang Golden Bulls v Nanjing Tongxi Monkey Kings Photo by VCG/VCG via Getty Images

Not long ago, Joe Young was closing a high school hoops career that saw him play for Yates (Houston, TX) HS. The year was 2011 and as a senior playing under Greg Wise, he closed the season averaging a pretty neat 27-4-4 line to which he also added more than four thefts per game. No wonder he carried the Yates Lions to a perfect 34-0 record, made them the no. 1 team in the nation, and personally was named to some All-American teams while racking up trophies such as the Texas Player of the Year. Oh, and the chip went to Yates, too, with Young being named MVP of the final. No joke.

That’s almost 10 years back, though, and after that Young remained in-state playing for the Houston Cougars—although he missed a year due to some issues with Houston’s board and staff—where he logged 62 games (46 starts) before transferring to Oregon to play for the Ducks in the 2014 and 2015 NCAA seasons. Truth be told, Young never stopped improving: he went from getting 2.3 Win Shares as a freshman to 5.0, 5.6, and 5.6 again in his senior year. His line jumped from 11-3-2 in his first season in Houston’s campus to 20-4-4 after closing his collegiate career in Oregon. During the three years he was a daily starter in the NCAA his offensive rating never dropped below the 115-mark, and it peaked at a ridiculous 132.3 in his junior season. That was, in one word, insane.

Put all of that information together and getting into the summer of 2015, leading up to the NBA draft, the buzz start to become louder surrounding Young’s name. Such was it that Indiana snatched him in the second round of the draft with the 43rd overall pick. Quite a steal considering Young carried Pac-12 POY honors with him.

Young was always a scorer since his early high school days, that’s for sure as his “Joey Buckets” certifies. He went on to spend three seasons playing for the Pacers (127 games from 2016 to 2018) and even started a contest in his last year in the NBA. He never was given ample chance, though, topping at 10.5 mpg in his last season in the L. At the end of the 2018 season Indiana opted to let Young go and on August of that very year Young had already inked a one-year, prove-it deal with the Nanjing Monkey King of the CBA.

What came next can only be described as catching fuego.

Joe Young’s Two-Year CBA Tenure In Context

When you think of the CBA—or any other league outside of the States not named Euroleague—you probably think of a retirement competition perfectly tailored for a late-career excursion. Far from it. Ask Joe Young.

Young hit the Chinese ground at age 26 as an absolute foreigner to the country, yet he came to make a dent on the CBA forever. In order to understand Young’s exploits I didn’t just want to look at data from this or last year, but at more of a full historical perspective. It is not perfect nor huge, but I found enough numbers over Basketball-Reference.com as to get information from CBA seasons from 2012 to 2020, a good nine-year sample comprised of 2,727 player-season entries. Young has two of them, and this is how they compare:

  • 2019 Joe Young per-game averages: 36.1 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 5.2 apg, 2.0 spg
  • 2020 Joe Young per-game averages: 38.3 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 6.4 apg, 2.3 spg

Young’s 2019 season was great. Young’s 2020 season was bonkers.

You just have to look at Young’s numbers among the rest of the CBA players to have logged minutes during the past nine seasons to understand how incredible Young’s performance levels have been through the past 24 months. Sure, the level of competition is not the same in the CBA as it is in the NBA, everybody knows that, but comparing Young to his peers allows to discover a truly talented hooper that found his place in China and now hopes to make the jump back to the NBA ranks.

2019/2020 CBA League - Nanjing Monkey Kings v Tianjin Ronggang Pioneers Photo by VCG/VCG via Getty Images

This 2020 season Young has averaged the most points per game of anybody in the CBA with 38.3 points per game a night. Dominique Jones finished second with 37.8 points per game, only he did so in just 28 games played. Young maintained his average for an astonishing 44 (of a possible max. of 46) games while playing 40.3 (!) minutes per game! He, of course, led the league in minutes per game and only trailed Deshaui Shi in total minutes (1,734 to 1,758, though Shi played one more game).

In the past nine seasons, only 20 times has a player averaged 35+ points per game in the CBA. Young did so in his two pro campaigns in China. Only Young has done it on back-to-back seasons, let alone playing at least 43 games in the seasons he reached that 35 ppg average. The only two other players to get to that per game mark while playing 43+ games were Darius Adams and Jimmer Fredette, both in 2019. Too bad they fell more than a point short of Young’s 38.0 per game, though.

Those are all per game numbers. What about raw, counting ones? Those are even crazier, thanks to the volume of playing time Young has amassed in his two years across the pond. You won’t believe this, but Young has the two highest made field goals marks since 2012 at 569 field goals made in 2019 and an even crazier 595 field goals made this season. Darius Adams’ 558 fgm in 2019 rank third, already 11 shy of Young’s 2019 mark and 37 below his 2020 mark. Adding injury to insult, Young just closed the season with 1,687 total scored points, a fresh CBA record. Bananas.

Also, it is not that Joey Buckets is a shoot-it-all type of player. Far from it, actually. Young’s 2020 shooting splits read .505/.367/.890. It doesn’t get much closer to a 50/40/90, if you ask me, and his .569 eFG% on a freaking 1,178 attempted field goals ranked ninth in the CBA this past season. Again, that defeats all odds and makes little sense. Young shot the ball 420 more times than second place Dominique Jones, yet he was able to finish with better percentages from three (.367 to .283), two (.569 to .566), and the free-throw line (.890 to .806). Now try to wrap your head around that—if you can.

Oh, and Young has also improved on the other areas of the game too, just in case you were wondering. While Joey’s mojo is definitely dropping buckets, his 5.6 assists per 36 minutes ranked 16th in the CBA this season and his 2.0 steals were the 17th best mark. All things considered, only five players have gone on to post per 36-minutes lines of 33-4-5-2 in the CBA since 2012, Young’s 2020 included.

On a per game basis, Young’s 38-4-6-2 line has only been reached by three men including Joey (Darius Adams and Pierre Jackson) but again, the other kept that line up on six and 18 fewer games played with a difference from 150 to 700 minutes of playing time compared to Young’s minutes over the 2020 season. Even dropping the scoring threshold to 30 ppg there are only 15 entries in the data set. Just imagine.

I have forgot to mention that Young completed a seven-game streak to close the 2020 season in which he dropped 48+ points in each: Joey Buckets went for 51, 74 (!!!), 57, 49, 53, 48, and 53. He basically averaged 55 ppg on 50.3 FG% to go with 6.1 apg. Crazy.

You can look at his 74-burger performance next, in case you want to witness greatness.

While Young didn’t played to the greatest of levels in his first and only three-year NBA run with the Pacers, he is now a free agent again looking for a team. With the CBA season over for him—the Nanjing Monkey Kings missed the playoffs—Young has already moved back to the USA and is waiting calls for the upcoming season. It is not a lock that Joey Buckets will be back in the Association when (if) the 2020-21 season tips off later this year, but he should be at the very least given a second chance to test the American pro-waters once more.

Here’s to hope Joe Young can find an NBA home. And hey, who’s to say he couldn’t be a great addition to the team that boasts the only other guy scoring more than 30 points per game in the L these days, which also happens to have its base in Young’s hometown of Houston?