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Joe Boozell | NCAA.com | December 20, 2017

Tale of the tape: Trae Young vs. Collin Sexton

Let’s break down two of college basketball’s most exciting young point guards. And if you missed the first edition of this series, here is our DeAndre Ayton vs. Marvin Bagley evaluation.

*Stats:

Here are Sexton and Young’s per-40 numbers. We’re using per-40 to mitigate the difference in minutes — Young plays slightly more than Sexton.

Young vs. Sexton per-40 numbers
Player Points Assists Rebounds Steals Turnovers FG% 3FG%
Trae Young 35.2 10.9 4.4 2.6 4.6 47.0 37.5
Collin Sexton 29.7 4.5 4.8 1.7 3.2 47.1 47.1

Both incredible numbers here, especially since they’re freshmen. But as you see, Young separates himself with his passing – Young might be as good of a distributor as he is a scorer, which is a scary thought if you’re a Big 12 coach not named Lon Kruger. Sexton is shooting a higher percentage from deep, but keep in mind: he’s taken 54 fewer 3s than Young. It’s fair to wonder what Sexton’s clip would be if he took as challenging of shots as Young does.

Edge: Young

Athleticism/Strength

Sexton is a blur in the open court, and that’s the biggest advantage he has over Young.

At 6-3, 190, Sexton had good size for a lead guard – he’s stronger and more athletic than most at his position.

In this clip against Arizona, Sexton catches the ball with a head of steam… but he’s going one on two in the open floor. This isn’t great defense, but Sexton zooms right past them for a dunk attempt – he misses, but the speed in which he goes from one end to the other is absurd:

Shades of De’Aaron Fox. Sexton has mastered the art of attacking a back-peddling defense; crash the offensive glass at your own risk if you’re facing Alabama, because Sexton can jet by two retreating defenders without even really revving up his engine.

Another example:

If your transition defense is even half a step too slow, Sexton will torch you. He’s so shifty in his euro-step that Parker Jackson-Cartwright doesn’t even make contact with him on the finish. Bottom line: he’s a superb athlete with an ideal build.

Young has better-than-you think burst, and he’s not some dwarf – he’s listed at 6-2, 180. But he’s not capable of making the play Sexton did in the first clip. Young is an above average-athlete who beats defenders off the dribble with nifty hesitation moves, pump-fakes, and the threat that he’ll bomb 3s from anywhere; Sexton is simply faster than 99 percent of his opponents, and he knows it.

Young’s athleticism manifests in his side-to-side agility. He has more than enough explosion to get to where he needs to go, but Sexton is elite in this category.

Edge: Sexton

Outside shooting

Young is already drawing Stephen Curry and Damian Lillard comparisons, and it’s easy to see why. Look at this shot he makes on the first possession against USC:

First of all, that’s an incredible shot. But what’s even more impressive is that he has the nerve to attempt such a thing on the first possession (side note: he did the same thing to Wichita State, but missed. This feels intentional). How demoralizing does that have to be if you’re USC? The Trojans had to have been thinking…. 'Man, this guy is going to be doing that all night? Is there any inch of the floor that’s safe?'

The answer is no, and that’s a huge part of Young’s value. The fact that he’ll pop from anywhere makes Oklahoma much, much harder to guard; mess up a switch, and you’re toast, as Wichita State was here:

Young’s shooting 37.5 percent from 3, which falls in the good-but-not great department. But again, he’s jacking nearly 10 of those suckers per game, and the degree of difficulty in his shots is higher than any other college player. He’d probably be shooting 50 percent from range if his shot profile was like, normal. But his daringness opens up clean looks for guys like Christian James, Brady Manek and Kam McGusty.

Sexton is a great shooter, too, but in a more traditional sense. He’s shooting 47.1 percent from 3, but he’s averaging less than four attempts per game. Sexton has the off-the-dribble pull-up down pat, which is the hardest shot in basketball to guard. Naturally, he had to break it out when Alabama played three on five vs. Minnesota:

Sexton should be attempting more 3s. He could use a little more of Young’s spontaneity in his game.

These guys are outstanding snipers, and the percentages favor Sexton. But based on what Young’s limitless range does for the Sooner offense, it’s impossible to pick against him.

Edge: Young

Attacking the rim

Strength and athleticism obviously play a huge role here, so Sexton has a built-in advantage. But what makes him so special in attacking the bucket is his mentality. He knows he’s better than his defender, so he’s going to exploit that. Sexton lives at the rim – he’s averaging a whopping 10 free-throw attempts per game, and is making 76 percent of his tries.

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You saw his explosion in the first section. It’s on display here too, but the fact that he could get to the rim while being double and triple-teamed by Minnesota tells you all you need to know:

The free-throw is the most efficient shot in basketball that’s not a dunk. Sexton’s ability to get to the line presents huge value for the Alabama offense.

As we’ve mentioned, Young isn’t the physical specimen Sexton is, but he’s got so much shake and craft to his game that he’s also outstanding at attacking the rim. His favorite weapon: the floater, which he busts out whenever a big man is waiting near the rim to swat his shot. Young usually doesn’t afford him that chance. His outside touch translates to his runner game.

Young gets to the free-throw line 8.9 times per game, which is also a monster number. The main difference between Sexton and Young: Sexton drives to score; Young is more unpredictable, but he’s usually looking to find an open 3-point shooter. Those methods work for both of them, but for the sake of this category, Sexton is the superior penetrator.

Edge: Sexton

Passing

The most obvious difference between the two. Sexton is an average passer at best; Young might have the best vision in the country.

Sexton usually finds wide-open teammates. Young anticipates his teammates coming open before they are, and hits them with a dime. Ever seen Aaron Rodgers throw a back-shoulder fade to a seemingly covered receiver, only to see him break open at the last second? Young does the same kind of stuff. 

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Watch as the Shockers try to hedge and recover on a Young ball screen. Most point guards wouldn’t see anything open here, and reverse the ball to the other side.

Not Young. Manek doesn’t seem to be open at first glance – Darral Willis is on him, and Landy Shamet is in full help mode. But Young anticipates Willis leaving to bump the roll man, and Young catches Shamet sleeping. Then, he fires a bullet in the perfect spot for Manek to hoist:

That’s next-level stuff. Young’s exquisite court vision is also on display in transition. In this clip against USC, the Trojans lollygag back on defense — against 95 percent of opponents, they’d have time to retreat and get set. Not against Oklahoma, because Young advances the ball to an open shooter:

The assist numbers jump off the page, but passes like that make Young a joy to play with. James is shooting 14 percent better than he did last year, and Young’s chemistry with Manek is evident. His passing unlocks so many possibilities for the Sooner offense.

Big edge: Young

Feel for the game/Intangibles

“Feel for the game” is partially code for passing, where Young has the clear edge. But it expands beyond that.

Young is constantly a step ahead of the defense, to the point where he almost toys with it. In this clip against the Trojans, Young had been firing bullets to teammates all game, and he knew it. So when driving to the rim, he had a choice: dish to a teammate for a corner 3, or finish himself.

Young uses the pass to set up the drive – like a pitcher with a dominant changeup who used it to strike someone out in his first at-bat, only to blow a 96 mile-per-hour heater by him in the second.

Poor, poor Chimezie Metu:

That little head fake was so slick, and Metu (understandably) fell for it. Curry has been a common comparison, but Young also has some Lonzo Ball in him.

And if we’re talking about intangibles, is there anyone you’d rather have on your side than Sexton? The guy almost willed his team to victory while playing three on five. He’s the most competitive player in college hoops. By all accounts, Young is a high-character guy, but we haven’t seen him be put in a situation as dire as Sexton vs. Minnesota and knock it out of the park.

Both guys have real arguments here.

Edge: Draw

Defense

Considering the offensive burden these guys carry, Kruger and Avery Johnson (smartly) do their best buy them some rest on defense.

Against Wichita State, Kruger had Young primarily guarding the less-involved Zach Brown as opposed to the ball-dominant Shamet. Sexton has more defensive potential based on his physical profile, and is a more threatening on-ball hound. But as expected, Young is a smart positional defender who is disruptive in passing lines – the steal numbers show it.

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Opposing coaches would be smart to run Young and Sexton through ball screens as much as possible – or better yet – make them defend ball screens, using their man as the screener and forcing them to burn more energy.

Sexton gets a slight edge based on his tools, but there’s not a major difference here.

Slight edge: Sexton

Overall: Both of these guys are awesome, but Young’s marvelous passing ability makes him the slightly more valuable player – because the moment he steps on the floor, his teammates are considerably better for it.

This duo has been a joy to watch. If Alabama and Oklahoma make the NCAA tournament, it will be fascinating to see what they can do in March.

Slight edge: Young