Thaddeus Young had his career-high in Toronto, dropping 32-points on the Raptors as a member of the Brooklyn Nets in 2010. But Young doesn’t remember that. 

The 33-year-old veteran with 14 years of NBA experience across seven teams doesn’t worry about individual accolades. Instead, “the biggest thing I pay attention to is wins and losses,” Young says. “At the end of the day, are we winning basketball games? Are we losing basketball games? And if we are losing, how can we win basketball games?” 

In other words, Young already has the Raptors’ mindset. And one look at his 6-foot-8 frame, 7-foot wingspan, and versatile style of play, it’s clear that he has the Raptors’ look as well. 

That stylistic and cultural fit is why Young was so excited to learn that the Raptors had acquired him (and the Detroit Piston’s 2022 second-round pick) from the San Antonio Spurs in exchange for Goran Dragic and the Raptors’ lottery-protected 2022 first-round pick on the NBA’s Feb. 10 trade deadline. The trade represented a change of scenery for the Louisiana native, who had only appeared in three games for the rebuilding Spurs since the start of the new year. But more than that, it represented a unique opportunity for Young to join a team built around players similar to himself. 

“I’m very excited, based on the fact that this is a team that plays with a lot of energy. I’ve been a guy that throughout the course of my career has played with a lot of energy, a lot of passion. And they’re doing the same thing,” Young, the 2020-21 NBA Hustle Award winner, told the Toronto media after the trade. 

“When I looked at how the roster was constructed, I was like, ‘Damn, they got a lot of long and athletic guys. I’m with this’… So, I think it’s a perfect fit.”

Thad Young and JaVale McGee
Image via Getty/Kelsey Grant

Young isn’t the only one who immediately saw how natural of a fit he and the Raptors were. While some fans take issue with the idea of moving back approximately 10-20 spots in the 2022 NBA Draft for a 33-year-old veteran on an expiring contract—a value play of which general manager Bobby Webster said: “Historically, it’s an area in the draft where we’ve operated in the past. Realistically, we don’t see a ton of incremental change between those picks”—the Raptors and their front office decided that Young was worth the price for his fit on and off the court. 

“That’s what I’ve always tried to do: try to put my imprint on the game and do all the small things that don’t show up on the stat sheet.”

After all, nothing good comes for free. And there is a price to pay in order to build and maintain the unique identity and healthy culture that the Raptors have fostered over the years. Plus, the Raptors need veteran mentors in order to develop one of the youngest and least experienced locker rooms in the league into winning players and consummate professionals, and they believe that Young can help develop those intangibles while also contributing on the court.

“Bringing in a player like Thaddeus Young, we wanted a veteran-type player, bird rights-type player that can come and help our young guys both in the locker room and on the court,” Raptors president Masai Ujiri said after the trade. “The leadership off the court is significant: Thaddeus brings so much energy, good spirit. I think he will help the young players.”

“Thaddeus is a known commodity around the NBA. For us, we’ve followed him for a while. We’ve made a few attempts to get him via trade in prior years. We felt like this was a good situation where we’re bringing him into Toronto,” Webster said. “I think he’s a high-level professional, obviously, just being in this league for this long. He’s developed into a leader.”

So, who exactly is Thaddeus Young, the newest, and oldest, Toronto Raptor? And why is he the right person to help these young Raptors develop into the best versions of themselves, on and off the court? 

Young has two sons: 8-year-old Taylor and 11-year-old T.J., who both play basketball themselves. He owns a trucking company and is very passionate about financial education, starting his own venture capital firm, Reform Ventures, in 2017, where he invests primarily in technology companies.

Thad Young's sneakers
Image via Getty/Cole Burston

Young is also as big of a sneakerhead as you will find, with a collection in the thousands that rivals some of the best in the NBA, including guys like P.J. Tucker and DeMar DeRozan. Young is all about trying to find multiple colourways of the same shoe. And he’s currently trying to collect all the Kobes—an increasingly difficult sneaker line to get your hands on—even helping hook up teammate OG Anunoby with some, who he has known since 2016 when he played for Young’s AAU program in Memphis.

Young was drafted 12th overall out of Georgia Tech by the Philadelphia 76ers in 2007. The lefty forward has been a beacon of consistency during his NBA career, playing at least 63 games in each of his 14 seasons and at least 81 games three times. His career averages of 12.9 points, 5.9 rebounds, 1.8 assists, and 1.4 steals per game along with 50/33/66 shooting splits rank him 11th among active players in games played, 15th in minutes played, 13th in field-goals made, and seventh in steals. That, along with his eight years of playoff experience, make Young one of the most experienced veterans in the NBA. 

Despite his advanced age and heavy minutes load, Young has continued to thrive late in his career, developing into more of a playmaker during his recent two-year stint in Chicago, where he averaged 12.1 points and 4.3 assists a game in 2020-21. As part of the DeMar DeRozan sign-and-trade this past summer, Young landed on a Spurs team that elected to focus on their youth this season, but that was hardly an indictment of Young, a high-character player who you’d be hard pressed to find any dirt on.

“[Thad] was a wonderful, wonderful teammate. Everybody enjoyed him,” San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich said after the trade. “He’s one of those vets that is a pro, knows what it’s all about. Is willing to help others, teach them. Good guy.”

“He’s got a good name. Good clean vet. Professional,” Raptors’ point guard Fred VanVleet said about Young. “Just a good guy to have around, regardless of what the on-court play will look like. He’s a stamped guy in terms of what he brings to the table in this league. He’s been doing it for a long time.”

Thad Young grabbing the ball on the court
Image via Getty/Steve Russell

That’s VanVleet talking, the leader of this Raptors team. While some fans have taken issue with the idea of the Raptors spending assets to acquire another voice when there is already a leadership group in place in the form of VanVleet and Pascal Siakam—who both won a championship in 2019—the truth is that everyone brings something different to the table: different experiences, relationships, insights, and ways of communicating. As VanVleet says, “I think he can be a great voice for us. He can share some insight, share some different things that he’s seen. He’s definitely seen a lot and been on some good teams. 

“I think it will be more so beneficial to the younger guys to have a different voice: a real, older vet that’s been in the NBA for years rather than [me]: I’ve been in the NBA for six years. They treat me like an old man, but I’m still 27.”

What VanVleet is alluding to has been backed up by the front office, the coaching staff, and the other veterans on the team, which is that regardless of what happens on the court—where Young currently acts as a stable connector off the bench as he averages 18.0 minutes per game—Young was primarily brought to the Raptors to help lead and mentor the least experienced locker room in the entire NBA (excluding Young).

“One thing I’ve been entrusted to do is to come in and lead,” Young said. “I was just telling somebody, my first week I want to just kind of like… evaluate the guys and see how I can help lead and help be able to ghost those guys and talk to them without stepping on any toes.”

“After the game I came into the locker room and I told him, ‘You don’t understand how much I have learned from you in the past three games that you have been here.’” – Precious Achiuwa

When I asked Young how he has fit in a week later, finding his voice without stepping on toes, he said he has been piggybacking off of VanVleet and Siakam, “the leaders of this team.”

“And just kind of stepping in and just reassuring those guys with a voice, with another voice. Especially one that’s been in the league for 15 years, guys tend to listen and gravitate to those guys who’ve been in league a little bit longer. So, I try to pull guys aside and tell them, ‘Okay, we need to do this. We need to do that.’ Or I try to get them going and say, ‘Hey, defensively we got to do this. We got to get after it.’ So, just trying to make my voice felt but not be real, real loud.”

Despite being with the Raptors for less than one month, Young has already made an impact with the young players, who are seeking him out for advice during shootarounds, practices, and games. In fact, almost every young Raptor has had something nice to say about Young and the personal relationship they have quickly fostered, which is extremely rare for a guy who has played just nine games with his new team. 

Thad Young on the court wearing a Raptors jersey
Image via Getty/Cole Burston

Considering that many of the Raptors are still young and learning how to win basketball games and be professionals, the importance of that leadership cannot be understated. After all, no one develops in a vacuum, and what we call “off-court leadership” can translate to “on-court success,” especially for young players who need help adjusting to the NBA game and lifestyle. 

“Thaddeus knows the game really well and of course being in the league for a while and being able to have that voice in the locker room, being able to recognize different things out there on the floor, he really talks on the bench,” Raptors rookie Scottie Barnes says. 

“In certain situations during the game he really has that voice, he really knows what’s going on. I would say it’s really like defensive schemes that he will see in the game… and really just being able to call those things out.”

“Someone who has been in it for a while. Those guys, you tend to listen to it a little bit more just because they’ve seen a lot, they’ve experienced a lot,” Raptors sophomore Malachi Flynn added. “So, especially for a young guy like me just kind of seeing what he has to say. And most of it turning out to be pretty true.”

For his part, Young seems on board with embracing the role of seasoned vet. As the Raptors found out with Dragic, not all veterans are willing to put the team above themselves and their own playing time, focusing on leadership responsibilities rather than themselves. But Young seems happy to lead, regardless of if he is playing heavy minutes or not, and that’s going to be important if he is going to successfully fulfill the role that the Raptors are asking of him. 

Young says he got that team-first mentality from coach Doug Collins, who he played under with the Philadelphia 76ers from 2010-2013. “He always wanted me to speak out because he knew I had a passion for not just winning, but making sure that my teammates were good, caring for others and being unselfish,” Young says. “And that’s what I continue to do: Just try to be unselfish to try to make sure that I’m making winning basketball plays as opposed to individual basketball plays. Everything’s for the team.”

One of the younger players that Young is already helping on the court is Raptors sophomore Precious Achiuwa, who has shown real signs of development since the All-Star break, including the ability to sprint to the corners and knock down threes, which Nick Nurse credited Young for helping instill in him. 

“I believe it was the game against Minnesota. After the game I came into the locker room and I told him, ‘You don’t understand how much I have learned from you in the past three games that you have been here,’” Achiuwa said about Young less than a week into his Raptors’ tenure. 

“He understands the game and he’s been in the league for a while. I’m very observant of people and I learned a lot just by watching him. Anything he would say I would go up to him and ask, ‘Hey, what did you see or what did you think happened there and what could I have done?’ He always was willing to share whatever he saw or thought. Just having that veteran leadership in the locker room is important and I’ve learned a lot from him personally.”

Thad Young grabbing the ball on the court
Image via Getty/Cole Burston

When I asked Young about what it is that Achiuwa was seeing him do that he has been able to learn from, Young said: “Just going out there and being solid. Staying poised on the defensive end of the basketball and just trying to make the right plays.

“I think that’s one of the biggest things: he sees some of the things that I’ve done, he sees how the small things impact the game, and that’s what I’ve always tried to do: try to put my imprint on the game and do all the small things that don’t show up on the stat sheet.”

And as much as Young is helping the young Raptors on the court, his most important contribution might actually have to do with his life advice off of it, helping the new Raptors stay even-keeled during the long season, which is increasingly difficult in a league that so often gets the better of young players. 

“For me, he always tells me, we talk on the bench, and he tells me: I’m lucky as a rookie, coming in as a second-rounder, even getting the opportunity to play. So, just kind of telling me to be grateful for my situation,” Raptors rookie Dalano Banton said on Chris Boucher’s podcast. 

“When we talk he gives me a lot of advice about longevity in the NBA and just to stay happy… This is something Thad said to me: if you don’t play a whole week, don’t let that drain your whole week. You still have to be happy. You’re still a living person. So, give it your all, but like, don’t give it your all, you know what I mean? Like, don’t let it take your whole life away. If you’re not playing, you’re not in the rotation, you can’t let that drain you of everything. You still have to come in, be professional, and still live a happy life.”

“It’s just good to have somebody like that that comes with a positive energy, too,” Chris Boucher added. “He comes with a positive mindset and just wanted to help the team and he did that since the first day: when he came in he picked things up and he was just trying to figure it out for himself and then after that it was all about the team.”

All in all, it seems that Young has fit in quite nicely with the Raptors, on and off the court. Young will be a free agent at the end of this season, but the Raptors hold his bird rights, allowing them to go over the salary cap to re-sign him. If they do, it will be a bet on his ability to continue mentoring and leading the young players as they grow into the best versions of themselves. 

“I want to be a great teammate. And I think I’ve done that over the course of my career. The one thing about me, anybody who’s played with me or anybody on any teams I’ve played with, they’re gonna say the value that I bring—obviously I can play basketball—but I bring a significant amount of value from the leadership side,” Young said. “Being able to communicate with my guys and uplift them even when they are in down times.”

Regardless of how you might feel about Young’s fit on the court, it’s obvious that his mentorship is going to be key for the Raptors not just this season, but possibly for years to come. The Raptors bet on his experiences and leadership qualities being worth the price of moving down in the draft. And based on the way he is already helping the young players on the team, it seems like a fairly safe bet.