Is Nick Young good enough to be a starting shooting guard on a good team?

Blog buddy Kevin Broom wrote an article for the Washington Post where he attempts to prove how Nick Young's contribution to the team is "fools gold". Kevin's article is well written and very well thought out. He makes the same arguments against Nick Young that we've heard for his whole career. He's a scorer, but that's about it. He doesn't help the team in any other areas and as a result, he should not be considered a long term building block, or even better, traded for "real" assets while he's hot.

Broom specifically looks at Young's statistics since he became a starter and contends that since a big part of Nick's game is shooting long two-pointers, he cannot sustain the kind of productivity we've seen so far. 

Is Young an exception? After all, he’s shooting an excellent 49.5% from that range so far this season. However, the season-long number obscures the fact that until Young became the starter, he was making 57.4% of his long twos. Since stepping up to more defensive attention and stiffer competition, Young has been shooting 42.9% — dropping closer and closer to the 40.5% he shot from that range in his first three seasons.

I've heard this argument before, from our own Mike Prada. It seems like a very valid point, and Broom thinks the Wizards should trade Nick Young before those shooting percentages start to drop. The problem is that those dropping two-point shooting percentages that Kevin quotes in his article don't explain why Nick Young's True Shooting Percentage has gone UP since he became a starter. Nick is currently sporting an excellent 57.0% TSP, 14th in the League for SG's. (right in the same area as Jamal Crawford and Dwyane Wade).

Everyone here knows that I'm a huge Nick Young fan, so before I started research for this article, I tried to put aside my personal bias to answer the following questions:

Can a team afford a high usage scorer that does little else to help the team?
Is Nick Young one of those players? (ie: does Nick do little else?)
Does Nick Young have any room for growth, or should the Wizards trade him?

We'll try to answer those questions below the jump.

Since the Arenas trade that made Nick Young the Wizards starting shooting guard, Young has averaged 20.7 points per game (57.0% True Shooting percentage), 3.6 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 3.98 free-throw attempts per game.

In order to formulate a counter argument, we need to look at where Nick stands in the League compared to other starting shooting guards in scoring, efficiency, assists and rebounds. Then we need to determine if Nick Young is done developing, or does he still have upside. Broom thinks Nick is who he is and won't get any better; certainly not good enough to be a starting SG.

What kind of player does he project to be? Is he a building block or a role player? While Young’s scoring has been nice, he doesn’t do enough to be a long-term building block, and his skill set is such that he doesn’t make much of a role player.

First, let's look at rebounding. Nick is certainly no Landry Fields, but as a starter this year, his 3.6 rebounds per game rank him right around 13th in the League - in the same area as shooting guards like Ray Allen, DeMar DeRozan and Monta Ellis. Not great, but not terrible either. However, I've noticed that Nick seems to be paying more attention to rebounding on the defensive glass in the last month or so. More and more, we're seeing Nick use his athleticism to come out of the pack with a tough rebound. The good news is that the stats seem to back up those observations and his rebounding numbers appear to be going up. He averaged 3.9 rebounds in January and almost five rebounds per game over his last seven games. Small smaple sizes to be sure, but combined with the visual evidence it seems to at least indicate a possible trend.

For right now though, and based on his whole body of work as a starter this year - let's just concede that Nick is a bit below average rebounder for a starting SG - RIGHT NOW.

As for assists - one of my running gags during game threads is to make a big production of Nick's assists, few and far between as they may be. Nick is averaging 2.0 assists per game this year as a starter. Yuck. Definitely an area that he needs to work on. Looking at other shooting guards in the League, it puts Nick around 40th (near the bottom of the League) - in the neighborhood of players like Jason Richardson, DeMar DeRozan (there's that name again), and OJ Mayo.

Again, watching Nick this season it seems like he IS passing more. He's certainly not dribbling as much - so where are all his assists? Why is Young not getting more assists? There is one big reason. The type of offense that Flip is running has Nick Young coming off screens - sometimes multiple screens. Flip is trying to get Nick to play more like Rip Hamilton (and Reggie Miller before him). One thing that I do agree with Broom is that Flip has simplified the game for Nick.

The coaching staff has expertly simplified his decision-making to a basic binary "catch-and-shoot" or pass it back to the PG.

Hard to get an assist when you're passing the ball back to John Wall. Young is averaging 2.0 assists since becoming a starter, but he is starting to get a few more here and there. In January, he's averaging 2.5 assists per game. That's not a huge gain, but then again, he doesn't need to go very far to be an "average" Shooting Guard (4.0 apg) as far as assists go. And 2.5 assists per game is much better than his putrid 1.4 assists per game from last year. Again, I think that since becoming a starter, Nick has settled in to his role - and I believe he will continue to expand his game.

As for turnovers - Nick Young has always been one of the best in the League at protecting the basketball. His Turn Over ratio is a ridiculously low 7.3%, and he has continued to bring that number down each year he's been in the League. With only 1.8 turnovers per game, Nick is one of the top 10 Shooting Guards in protecting the basketball.

So the conclusion that Broom comes to is that Nick Young will never be any better than what he is now. He goes on to say that while Nick is a good one-on-one defender, it's not enough to offset his other deficiencies.

While his defensive contributions are worthwhile, they’re not enough to offset the fact that his overall floor game is so deficient.

I could look at some of the other minor stats (steals, blocks, fouls, etc.) - but I think we have a pretty good picture of where Nick Young stands as a starting Shooting Guard after 20 games. He scores. He scores efficiently. He's a very good one-on-one defender but slightly below average rebounder and a poor passer.

Is that enough? Well, the Detroit Pistons did very well with Rip Hamilton (career 17.7 points per game, 52.7% TSP, 3.2 Rebounds, 3.5 assists, 4.4 Free Throw attempts per game).... and Reggie Miller made a Hall of Fame career with similar stats (18.2 points, 61% TSP, 3.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 5.1 FTA per game), although Reggie's phenomenal 61% True Shooting Percentage certainly sticks out.

Remember Nick Young's starting numbers?
20.7 points, 57.0% TSP, 3.6 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 4.0 FTA
They stack up pretty well against Hamilton and Miller - and in my opinion, Young is a better defender than either of those players.

Now before I get tons of negative input from Reggie Miller fans, irate that I would even mention Nick Young in the same breath with the venerable Hall of Famer - I'm simply trying to point out that a team CAN afford to have a Shooting Guard that doesn't rebound much or drop a ton of assists. A team doesn't have to be constructed a certain way, or have to make concessions for the SG's "deficiencies".

There's one other point I'd like to make about Nick Young that Broom didn't mention. Nick Young's first two years were spent toiling under Eddie Jordan and later Ed Tapscott. Neither of those guys are known as icons of player development. Nick spent his first two years either picking splinters out of his shorts or getting yanked every time he missed a shot. To say his playing time was inconsistent is almost the definition of an understatement. Jordan and Tapscott's idea of player development was to have the young players watch from the bench as the veterans played all the significant minutes; even if those veterans were shooting 24 percent for the year. Their idea of "teaching" was to yank a young player for missing a shot or making a single mistake, but to keep veterans in even if they were hurt or hurting the team.

In my opinion, it wasn't until Flip Saunders was named Wizards Head Coach that Young received the first real coaching of his young professional career. For the first time, Young received regular playing time. For the first time, Young was held accountable for his defensive effort. For the first time, Young received specific instructions on how he would fit into the offense and was told in the off-season what to work on to be prepared for the season. For the first time, Nick Young received court time that was not regulated by whether he hit or missed his first shot.

The improvement in Young's game from last year to this year is nothing short of amazing, and has him being mentioned as a candidate for Most Improved Player. Is Nick Young's improvement really "fools gold"? Or is it the natural progression of a talented young player finally getting good solid coaching and regular, consistent playing time?

So - the question is this: do we consider Nick Young a fourth year player - with known flaws that cannot be changed. He's a shooter with no other attributes - a player that should be traded while he's hot and in demand?

OR -

Do we throw out his first two wasted years and think of Young as a 2nd year player that has improved immensely from last year due to playing time and better Coaching? Does Nick Young have more upside and can he bring more to the team than just efficient scoring and perimeter defense?

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