2008/09 Player Evaluation: Nick Young

 

Previously: Oleksiy Pecherov, Juan DIxon, Etan Thomas, Javaris Crittenton, JaVale McGee, DeShawn Stevenson.

STATS

Per-game: 22.4 minutes, 10.9 points, 1.8 rebounds, 1.2 assists

Per-36 minutes: 17.5 points, 2.9 rebounds, 1.9 assists

Percentages: 44.4 FG%, 34.1 3PT%, 85% FT%, 48.1 eFG%, 53 TS%

Advanced (explanations): 13.1 PER, 4.8 REB%, 9 AST%, 9.9 TO%, 23.1 USG%, 105 ORtg, 117 DRtg, 1.2 WSAA (win score above average)

Mike Prada: Nick Young's probably the most divisive player on the Wizards' roster outside of Gilbert Arenas.  His game runs at a fundamental crossroads of fandom, hitting our two greatest sensibilities: the need for excitement and the need for guys who "play the right way."  He's a great scorer ... but that's all he does.  He can create his own shot ... but it's not always a good one.  He can get hot and win you a game ... but he also goes cold sometimes.  He is an outstanding dunker ... but he's not a good finisher.  

The irony here is that Nick Young might be the most functional tool on the roster.  He brings an NBA-ready skill to the table, and if he sticks to it, he would be a great role player.  Just like coaches plead for guys who focus on one thing like rebounding and do it well, so to do they need guys who focus on scoring.  Nick Young can do that.  He might not rebound, he might not pass it so well and he might lack good defensive fundamentals, but he can score.  You may not know what type of performance you'll get, but you know how Nick Young is going to play when he goes out there. 

Jake, Truth and Rook will talk in more detail about Nick's 2008/09 season below, but to sum it up, we saw very gradual improvement from Nick this year.  While his shooting percentages and scoring rate basically stayed at the same levels as 2007/08, Nick did improve slightly in two areas.  He became a much better ball-handler, turning it over on significantly fewer possessions (9.9% instead of 15%), and he gave a much better effort defensively, even if his fundamentals may still make him a below-average defender.  The latter claim is supported by both statistical (even if it's somewhat misleading) and visual evidence

But let's get back to the functionality point.  Last year, Ed Tapscott did not dole out consistent minutes for Nick Young, instead choosing to use him as a "hot hand" type and a situational player.  When Nick Young was actually scoring, Tapscott would play him more.  If he wasn't, Tapscott took him out, since it wasn't like he was helping much anyway.  On a competitive team with an established pecking order that is too busy trying to make a deep playoff run to worry too much about in-game player development, that would have been a good use of Nick Young's skills. 

However, that was not the Wizards last year.  They were terrible and should have been looking toward the future rather than the present.  Tapscott and the front office were so concerned about the team's "culture" that they missed a chance to really challenge Nick to improve his all-around game.  Oh sure, they put on a good face to reporters, talking about how they really want to see Nick do more than score.  But in order to get enough data to improve, it would dramatically help a player like Nick to have consistent minutes in games to practice the skills he needs to improve firsthand.  Instead (and Nick admitted as much), he was so concerned about scoring well because he knew that, if he didn't, he'd sit on the bench.  In a development season, that was the wrong way to approach the situation.  The player always gets some responsibility for not developing his all-around game as much as he could have, but Tapscott didn't create the right parameters to maximize that development.

Flip Saunders has essentially taken the Tapscott approach with Young, although much more sensibly.  He's worked on making Nick a more efficient scorer, running him off screens much like a similar score-well-but-doesn't-do-much-else-well player in Rip Hamilton.  Flip's probably thinking that: "We're going to be a winning team next year, so I need to get the most out of Nick's one functional skill so he can be a good role player for me."  It's smart only in the sense that Flip is encouraging Nick to play to his strengths. 

However, we have a problem because of the Minnesota trade.  Young's functional skill suddenly isn't so essential.  Randy Foye can do all the same things better, and he's also more experienced.  Meanwhile, Mike Miller is also offense-first, but with a far better all-around game.  At a certain point, room has to be made for defense-first guys like DeShawn Stevenson and/or Dominic McGuire as well.  So when will Nick Young play? 

The only way I could see Young getting a ton of minutes is if he massively improves his defense and makes DeShawn/Dominic expendable, but I doubt that happens.  Otherwise, he just runs into battling Foye for the designated "instant offense" bench scorer role.  I don't think Young wins that battle, personally.  Foye's a better catch-and-shoot guy, a more aggressive driver and a better passer.  Young ... well Young dunks better. 

The best solution to me right now is a trade.  Young still has enough upside to be included in a package with expiring contracts to get a player with a skill that's more in need with the current roster.  While there's always the fear Nick goes and "blows up" somewhere, his flat scoring numbers from his first and second year indicates he probably is what he is.  Nick's also 24 already, so he's far closer to the "finished product" stage than the "tantalizing upside" stage.  It will suck to see him go, because he's exciting, personable, funny and ... well ... huggable, but I do think that's what's best for the roster going forward.

JakeTheSnake: I should preface this evaluation by saying that it's impossible for me to hate Nick Young.  I can still be critical of his game, but I'm aware that my inability to hate him will bias this evaluation somewhat.

Why exactly, can't I hate him?  To be honest, I'm not quite sure.  In recent years my fascination with scorers has dwindled, especially ones who excel at it to the detriment of the rest of their game.  Yet, every time Nick Young has the ball in his hands, I couldn't help but be fascinated, even when he settled for fadeaway jumpers that clanged off the rim.  It's something that as a fan interested in seeing my team win I shouldn't like.  But as Free Darko reminded us this week, wins and losses are just one of the ways that we're entertained through sporting events.  And win, lose or draw I'm still entertained by Nick Young.

Still, even a biased fan like me knows that Nick has a lot to work on if he's ever going to be more than just a player that tittilates those of us who are wowed by soaring dunks and streaky lights out shooting.  Many cite his lack of passing as his biggest flaw, but I tend to disagree.  Nick was built to be a shooter and has been groomed to be one his entire life.  I can't fault him too much for looking for his shot when that's all that he knows how to do.  We have to remember that he was drafted to be a quick scoring punch, not the next coming of Chris Paul.  His passing needs to improve, but we shouldn't expect his passing to ever be superb or even average, because that's not what he was built to do.

The one thing I'd really like to see Nick Young work on next season is his rebounding.  A guy with the size and jumping ability of Nick Young shouldn't have a lower rebounding rate than Steve Blake, Jose Calderon, Beno Udrih, T.J. Ford, Luke RIdnour, Leandro Barbosa, Monta Ellis, and Nate Robinson.  Like his passing, its something that I don't expect to ever be excellent or even average, but I think he has far more room to grow in this area than he does as a passer.

There's still a lot of room for improvement with Nick Young, but the good news is that he did improve over his rookie campaign, which you always like to see.  There's some concern in my mind that his experience this season on such a terrible team this season will stunt his growth down the road.  Thankfully, he seems to be learning a lot from Flip and the rest of the coaching staff as we saw in Vegas and he'll have enough competition at the guard spot to keep him from getting complacent, so my fears on that front have been relieved for the most part.  Only time will tell if Nick Young has what it takes to crack the guard rotation this season and earn some quality minutes, but I know regardless of what happens, I'll have fun watching.

Truthaboutit: Nick Young has a fighting chance to earn minutes in '09-10, but an unforgiving window of opportunity. Flip Saunders loves his veterans, but I'm confident he'll play the better man. Might the coach be able to look past Young's defensive inefficiencies if he becomes more consistent on offense? Only if Young learns to create for others, doesn't slow down ball movement, and is able to heat up quickly in limited minutes.

After Gilbert Arenas and Antawn Jamison, Nick Young is the most diverse offensive player on the Wizards. He'll sky to dunk on heads. His single crossover will send defenders in different directions. He can hang and double clutch to get around arms. His stop pull-back and pop jumper makes people look silly. His fadeaway can't be stopped. And if Bean Burrito's play on offense in the summer league proves to be true growth, his ability to hit spot up threes and run off screens could make him a tough assignment for anyone in the league.

However, to illustrate his inconsistent offense in '08-09:

  • Young established career highs on January 9th (28 points),
  • On the 12th (30 points), and
  • On the 14th (33 points).

But then went through inconsistent stretches where have averaged:

  • 5.4 ppg on .324 FG% over the next eight games,
  • 19.2 ppg on .543 FG% over the following five games,
  • 7.4 ppg on .335 FG% over the next 13 games, and
  • 13.4 ppg on .559 FG% over his last 18 games.

With a glut in the backcourt and Saunders' eight-man +2 rotation, Young will have to find a way to make a difference on the court with significantly less minutes than the 22.4 he got in '08-09. Contributing with rebounds and assists would be a start. Unfortunately, Young has a long way to go in these departments. Since 1946-47, only three players in their second NBA season, who primarily play the guard position, have averaged:

  • more than 10 ppg,
  • more than 20 minutes per game,
  • less than 2.5 rebounds per game, andless than 1.5 assists per game.

The culprits are Nick Young, Nate Robinson, and Harold Miner. Also, Young's 13.1 PER places third after Robinson's 15.2 and Miner's 14.0. Yikes ... not exactly good company.

So many areas of needed improvement and I've barely touched upon Nick's defense. It's not all bad news, but there's not a lot of good news either. Kevin Broom has a good breakdown of Young's defense on his blog, The Secret Weapon. Here's an excerpt:

There’s a contention floating around that Nick Young was a "slightly above average" defender last season. This is based primarily on three pieces of evidence:

  1. Young led the Wizards last season in defensive on/off.
  2. Young’s counterpart stats weren’t terrible — opposing SGs had a PER of 15.8 when young was in the game.
  3. Young blocks a decent number of shots for a guard.
While I agree he’s not awful defensively, I don’t think the evidence supports the "slightly above average" claim. While I’m an ardent supporter of using stats to evaluate players, it’s important to scrutinize the data to be sure the numbers are actually saying what we think they’re saying. In Young’s case, I think the on/off number may just be a fluke or luck.

In the end, perhaps what's holding Nick Young back most is himself. Much has been made about the kid smiling a lot. Nothing wrong with being happy. But if he can channel emotions into possessing the intense nature of a stone-cold offensive killer, and into the passion and pride it takes to not let your man score on you, then time over both Randy Foye and DeShawn Stevenson at the shooting guard position is not out of the question.

Rook6980: Let me preface my statements by saying I'm a huge Nick Young fan, and I tend to look at everything he does through rose colored glasses.  The main reason I like Nick is because he can score. Yeah, I know, lots of NBA players can score; but Nick has been able to score since the first time his sneakers hit the floor in an NBA game. It's natural for him.  It's ingrained into his very being.  And let's face it, this is basketball, not soccer.  Scoring is important; and scoring in bunches is very important.

In his rookie year, you could see the potential in him.  He could take nearly any player off the dribble, create separation, and get a clean shot off.  He has tremendous size and athleticism, and he seems to feed off the energy that an exciting dunk elicits from the fans.  But even though he could beat his man off the dribble, he had trouble running into that second defender, and that created a ton of turnovers.  While getting a dunk, or hitting a big 3 pointer could elevate his energy and send him into a scoring binge; missing his first shot, or making a mistake on defense just as easily sent him into a funk.

Nick made strides in his sophomore year, specifically in lowering his turnover rate, and getting his points within the context of the offensive scheme.  Towards the end of the year, Young showed some surprisingly good defensive play as well.  Young still has a long way to go before before he can be considered a "starting quality" NBA Guard.  He still doesn't pass the ball, and his rebounding, especially for a guy with his size and athleticism is atrocious, but where he should be really focused on improving is his defense.

Nick has all the tools to be a great defender.  He's big.  He's got quick hands.  He's athletic.  He's got good lateral quickness.  He needs the right mind set, and the right coaching, and I'm convinced he could be a very good defensive player THIS year.  He's got to learn to stay in front of his man, close out aggressively on shooters, and force more turnovers.

I was excited to see Nick in this year's Summer League games moving, running off screens, reversing direction, using back picks; looking very much like Rip Hamilton.  Ultimately, I would like to see him getting more of his points on screens and movement, rather than on one-on-one moves.  Last year, if Nick Young drove, he mostly pulled up for a mid-range jumper.  As his career progresses, Young should learn to utilize screens and drive more to the hoop to increase his chances of getting to the line and decrease his dependence on one-on-one mid-range jumpers.  Add improved defense to a more controlled offensive game, and I don't think anyone will be complaining about Nick's lack of assists or rebounds.

There are very few players that I can say that I watch intently while they are on the court knowing that at any time, they could do something special.  I just can't take my eyes off them.  Kobe.  LeBron.  Chris Paul.  JaVale McGee. One of the players on my "must watch" list is Nick Young.

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