Three years into his NBA career, Thaddeus Young began to notice a change. In what felt like a sudden shift, players he was used to seeing around the NBA were no longer around. They weren’t retired or even toward the end of their career; they were out of the league seemingly just as soon as they had arrived. It was an awakening to the reality of how fast a player’s NBA career can end.
Young entered the NBA in 2007 as the 12th overall pick selected by the Philadelphia 76ers. Early on, he attended meetings on how to prepare for life in the league, which included data on the average lifespan of a player. At the time, he learned it was just over four years – a figure he still recalls in his ninth season.
“You see guys come and go each and every year,” Young told Basketball Insiders. “I saw how quickly it could become a situation where you don’t know if you’re going to be in the NBA, D-League or overseas. It’s definitely an eye-opening experience.”
Young remembers being surprised when the two players drafted immediately after him, Julian Wright and Al Thornton, were both out of the NBA after their fourth seasons. Wright played for two teams during that time, and Thornton played for three. They were consecutive late-lottery picks, but only Young made it to the 2011-12 season (and beyond).
“You do see a lot of guys on other teams and you say, ‘Man he was good,'” Young said. “Seeing those type of guys being able to play this game and then they’re not in the league anymore, it’s crazy.”
Seeing the turnover drove the current Brooklyn Nets forward to try to do everything in his power to increase the longevity of his career. He focused on eating the right food, having strong practice habits and being coachable. Even a small adjustment like adding more protein to his diet is a step he has taken to maximize his production and stay relevant.
At 27 years old, Young wants to add a new aspect to his game each year. He signed a four-year, $50 million deal with the Nets this past offseason after being traded from the Minnesota Timberwolves in February.
This season, his numbers are up to 15.9 points and 8.9 rebounds per game in 31.9 minutes. Over the last 10 contests, he is averaging a double-double of 17.2 points and 10 boards, including a 25-point, 14-rebound performance on Sunday against the Golden State Warriors. Overall, Young’s rebounding percentage has increased from 9.6 to 15.3 percent since last season.
“He’s not a guy who needs all his athleticism to be a great player,” Nets point guard Shane Larkin said. “He has great footwork in the post, a good mid-range jump shot and he’s mobile. He doesn’t necessarily have to be one of the guys who overpowers everybody. He just knows how to play the game, so I can see him being around a lot more years because he knows how to play the game.”
Young believes he has what it takes to have a long career in the NBA. He cites being able to score, create his own baskets and help his team win games as check marks he can point to to justify why he should have a lengthy career.
He has seen players enter and exit the NBA year after year since he was 19 . Now a veteran, he appreciates the work he has to put in to stay in the league and produce at a high level.
“You want to take every day seriously,” Young said. “You never know when it could be over.”
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