Monday, January 31, 2011 4:41 p.m.
By Shaun Ahmad of WizardsExtreme.com
The Washington Wizards are in the midst of a losing season that includes what has become a historically embarrassing road record (0-23). Despite getting closer to mathematically ensuring a sub-.500 season as each buzzer sounds, there are certain glimmers of hope in what has been a dreary season.
Fortunately for Wizards' fans, this team does not fall into the category of a losing franchise with washed up, expensive veterans or a talented squad overridden by injuries. In fact, most of the 2010-11 team's obvious flaws stem from what is projected to be their greatest asset in the future; talented youth.
It is no secret that John Wall is the face of the franchise at the young age of 20. Nor is it a secret that the team has financially invested in forward Andray Blatche. Even third year center, JaVale McGee, is raising his national presence by participating in the 2010 Slam Dunk Contest. However, one player is going under the radar despite his increased responsibility and consistency on the court and it's time to take notice.
Nick Young, in his fourth year with the team, has assumed the role of starting shooting guard with the Wizards and has used his 16 games as an opportunity to serve notice to fans and media alike that he is capable of scoring with almost anybody.
The Backup Plan
Up until Gilbert Arenas was traded to the Orlando Magic earlier this season, Young spent his career as a backup, earning sporadic minutes to give the former All-Star a breather. In his first two seasons combined, Young started a total of only seven games and averaged less than 18 minutes per contest over that span. In the 2009 season, he saw his number of starts increase to 23 but strangely enough, his minutes per game dropped along with his points, assists, rebounds and field goal percentage.
What could have been a frustrating and emotionally exhausting time for others turned into a chance to improve for Young. While getting scattered minutes here and there may not have been the ideal way to develop the former first round pick, it served as an opportunity for him to soak in the right things to do and the wrong things to avoid - plenty of both - from Arenas.
Coming into the 2010 season, Young was still coming off of the bench but at the very least, he was seeing a career high as far as time on the court was concerned. It wasn't long after the Arenas' departure that Young became a full-time starter. With the position ripe for the picking, he wasted no time in seizing the moment.
Seize the Moment
Since becoming a starter, Young has shown significant improvement in many statistical categories. His points are up from 13.6 off the bench to 20.6. His shooting percentages (field goal, three pointer, and free throw) have all improved, as have his rebounds, assists, and steals per game.
There has even been recent chatter of Young priming himself to receive votes for the NBA Most Improved Player award. In a year that has seen the Wizards flounder near the bottom of the conference, it would undoubtedly be refreshing for fans to see that the rest of the league is recognizing their player as one on the up and up.
With that said, an important distinction needs to be made.
Better Game or Better Opportunity?
Has Young improved his game or has he simply taken advantage of minutes that weren't offered to him before. In essence, could he have been doing this all along - performing at a high level - had he been given the opportunity sooner? What if he didn't ride the bench as the Wizards' waited for Arenas to take the team to the next level?
Taking a look at Young's statistics would surprise quite a few.
Breaking down each of his seasons by quarters played, his statistical averages per minute would show that he was capable of scoring close to 20 points per game in each of his first three seasons. His numbers for field goal percentage, points, assists and rebounds per minute played were consistent each of his first three years. Unfortunately, his minutes were not.
That tells us that whenever he was given an opportunity to be on the court - whether it was for five minutes of fifteen, he would play each minute with the same level of effort and ability. Consistency is a major flaw of many talented players, but fortunately, it isn't for Young.
While his statistics remained steady, things have changed in his fourth year. He has shown indisputable improvement nearly across the board - even if you break down each of his statistical categories by minute or quarter.
For example, his projected points per quarter in his first three seasons averaged to 5.84, 5.84, and 5.38. In year four, the number is up to 6.77. Similarly, his first three seasons showed projected shooting percentages per quarter of 43, 41, and 44. This year, that percentage is 46.
There are many variables that go into determining how effective a player is per contest, especially when you consider the different teammates and schemes in each season. But it is safe to say that through his first three years, Young was consistent in his abilities while in year four, he has begun to take his game to a different level.
Shooting In Sync
Given his improvement, there are several reasons that the Wizards' should keep him in their future plans. Aside from him fitting in with the team with regards to age and experience, his style of play is in sync with the type of offense that Washington is implementing. It all begins with John Wall who brings a fast paced, up-tempo attack. With the way the roster is constructed, fans will never see the Wizards play in a half court style as the Los Angeles Lakers do. This is a team built to run and take advantage of slower teams with their speed and athleticism.
With Wall considered among the top tier players in regards to distributing the ball, Young's shoot-first style fits perfectly for a transition-based offense. One of the key fundamentals to a successful fast break is to attack the basket. In the process of attacking the painted area, it is the job of the point guard to draw defenders in and if needed, kick the ball out to a perimeter shooter.
Enter Nick Young.
Rounding it Out
Aside from being a shooter, Young is starting to show flashes of talent and understanding in different areas. In recent games, he has set career highs in points, rebounds and assists. He displayed a well-rounded game in a victory over Toronto with 29 points, six rebounds and four assists, and continued to do so with a 21 points, six rebounds, five assists effort in a loss to Milwaukee.
Young has shown that he can be an efficient player and is now ranked No.16 in John Hollinger's Player Efficiency Rankings among shooting guards. For the sake of perspective, that puts him ahead of Brandon Roy, Stephen Jackson, Richard Hamilton, and O.J. Mayo to name a few.
It should be kept in mind that while winning the Most Improved Player Award or receiving votes for it would be nice, the expectations for Young are greater than that. When he was drafted with the 16th pick in the draft, the Washington Wizards franchise made an investment in him for the future. He has yet to surpass the standards set forth by fans and team management because the bar is higher for a player with the talent and ability he possesses.
While Young has shown consistency in the past and improvement in the present, he knows better than anyone that he is far from his peak. The national media and fans are accurate when they say Wall is the future of the franchise. Truth be told, there are several players that will be integral to the rebuilding of the team.
However, Wizards' management, fans, and the local media would be wise to let this current nucleus gel and mature while letting the players grow old with Young.