When NBA season resumes, Thad Young is set to go milestone chasing

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In late January, Thad Young looked up at the greaseboard in the Bulls locker room to see the number “950” written on it, courtesy of Jim Boylen.

“I was trying to figure out why that was on the board,” Young said in a recent interview, conducted before the unprecedented suspension of this season due to the COVID-19 virus. “And somebody said, ‘That’s how many games Thad has played.’ And I was like, ‘Oh, wow.’”

Even if this season continued uninterrupted, Young would have only landed on the precipice of one of the unspoken holy grails of the NBA — playing in 1,000 games. Young is at 965 games, with 17 remaining Bulls contests hanging in the balance of the unknown.

But make no mistake: Young, who prides himself on his availability and durability, will get there.

“It just says a lot about my health. As an athlete, I’ve been fortunate to be healthy and play a lot of games,” Young said. “I’ve played the most games out of anybody in my [2007] draft class. That’s a big accomplishment right there. My draft class had Mike Conley and Al Horford and Kevin Durant. Those guys have done a lot in their careers. To be a part of this league for so long is a blessing. Reaching 1,000 will be a huge milestone.

“I take a lot of pride in just being available and being ready for my teammates. I’ve always been a guy who if I had an injury or a bump or bruise, the only way I’m not playing is if I can’t walk. I try to keep that motto and be mentally focused at all times.”

Eleven active players have reached the 1,000-game milestone. The Clippers’ Lou Williams is currently just four game shy. Overall, 142 players in NBA and ABA history have accomplished the feat.

“When you see guys who have 10-plus years, you always talk with them about how time flies and how being a part of this league for so long has changed our lives significantly and how it’s put us in position to be more than basketball players,” Young said. “For me, it’s about being part of this fraternity and building relationships.”

After the Bulls signed Young last summer to a three-year free agency deal that carries a partial guarantee for the final season, videos of the 13-year veteran working out landed on social media frequently. Young has missed just one game in each of the last three seasons and none to injury. His only idle game this season was due to personal reasons.

So you know he’ll stay in shape during this hiatus.

“My training has changed a ton,” he said. “When I first came into the league, I would just play all the time and work out all the time. You have to start calculating things a little bit better so you don’t wear yourself out.

“What I try to do is a lot of core and mobility work. I play in the offseason, but it’s not as much 5-on-5. I do that once or twice a week as opposed to four or five times a week. I try to shorten my sessions when I’m on the court.

“I have a training session in the morning, which is skills and drills working on ballhandling. And then I come back to the gym late at night and get shots up. The middle of the day, I do core and mobility stuff or strength and conditioning. I try to spend more time in the weight room as opposed to doing more with the ball.”

Young, who turns 32 in June, is averaging 10.3 points in just 24.9 minutes. His per 36-minute statistics are almost identical to his last three seasons as a full-time starter with the Pacers. The Bulls lead the NBA in deflections, and Young’s active hands — and feet —are a big reason why.

“I try to be as energetic as possible. It all starts with the defensive end for me. If I can get those stops on the defensive end or slow my guy down a little bit, it puts me in better position on the offensive end. I’m able to get to certain spots or get out in transition,” he said. “Plus, I’ve worn the guy down on the other end. Then it’s a battle of who’s in better shape. Most of the time, I feel I’m in better shape.”

So how much longer does Young plan to play?

“I haven’t really thought about it too much. You try to prepare for retirement. But I’m still able to average 10 points a game, which is very good, especially for a guy in his 13th season. I’m still able to contribute to any team I play on,” he said. “When that starts to dwindle down a little bit, then I’ll think about it. But as of right now, it doesn’t seem like I’m slowing down.”

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