Nick Young - Selfish black hole? or Efficient scorer?


I've been in a running argument with some fellow BF posters about Nick Young. My position is that Nick is an efficient scorer - but because of his role in the Offense, he is not asked to "create" offense, but rather to finish offensive plays.

Others have pointed to Nick's anemic assist numbers as proof of  "selfishness to extreme levels" making Nick worthy of "black hole" status; Noting also that Nick frequently refused to pass to open teammates under the basket - and generally poo pooing Nick's scoring as something any two-bit Johnny off the street could match. (While putting Jordan Crawford up as an example).

I simply don't remember Nick playing selfishly last year - and other than one play that stuck out on a fast break, I honestly cannot remember Nick refusing to pass to an "open teammate under the basket"....  Not last year. Not from my recollection. Of course I'm old... and my brain is sometimes fuzzy about facts and such... But not usually about the Wizards. Now, I DO remember him being selfish, and being a "ball stopper" a couple years ago - before Flip Saunders' revitalization of Nick's game. I can recall times he passed up open teammates to shoot.... But not last year.

Then there's my aversion to the simplistic "X number of assists per game" argument. It just doesn't seem to tell the whole tale. As with other "simple" per game stats, they usually require some context, logic and reasoning before jumping to a hasty conclusion. This argument (Is Nick Young a selfish black hole), cannot be decided by "simple" stats. Nor will conjecture about how the Coaching staff has or has not told Nick Young to play do anything but cause further argument. So instead, I decided to look back at the 2010-2011 season and watch each and every offensive play available to me on MySynergySports.com.  I hoped to draw some conclusions from watching the actual plays. I hoped to gather some facts that either proved or disproved my point. And of course, since there's no actual basketball, I'm kind of going into withdrawal.

I invite everyone else to do the same, and I hope you will enjoy the experience as much as I did. Believe me, it helped my withdrawal. There are some observations from my hours of watching Nick Young knock down shots after the jump.

Synergy shows that Nick was involved in 1,105 offensive plays that resulted in either a shot attempt, Turn Over or Free Throw attempt(s) last year. I watched each and every play, frequently rewinding and re-watching again to make sure I didn't miss anything important. Because I know that Nick Young is one of my favorite players, I tried to stay objective - and whenever there was a potential for dispute I decided to rule in favor of a Nick Young miscue or error rather than the opposite. In other words, I was brutal in my assessment of the plays.

Synergy breaks down the plays involving Nick Young on offense as follows:
Spot-up shooting = 263 plays (23.8%)
Off Screen plays = 233 plays (21.1%)
Isolation plays = 172 plays (16.2%)
Transition plays = 163 plays (14.8%)
P&R Ball Handler = 141 plays (12.8%)
P&R Roll Man = 3 plays (0.3%)
Post-Up plays = 28 plays (2.5%)
Hand off = 15 plays (1.4%)
Cuts = 19 plays (1.7%)
Offensive Rebounds = 12 plays (1.1%)
All other plays = 49 plays (4.4%)

As you can see, Spot up shooting, Screen plays, Iso's and Transition make up more than 75% of the offensive plays Nick was involved in. After watching all 1,105 plays, I was blown away by how efficient Nick was at spot-up shooting, especially 3-point spot ups. He shot 46% (69% TSP , or 1.38 points per play) from the 3-point line in spot up situations... and he hit 60% when he was wide open. ( I counted 62 instances where the opponent was too far away to get back to bother Nick when he shot - Nick drained 37 of those shots - a bunch of those shots were created by John Wall and Jordan Crawford). For comparison Ray Allen, the premier shooter in the League, shot 49% in spot up 3-point situations last year.

Shooting is the one Offensive skill that the Wizards will desperately need from someone next year. The ability to knock down open perimeter shots will be crucial not only to the Wizards winning games, but also to the continued development of John Wall and the rest of the Wizards youngsters. The Wizards have plenty of guys that can get garbage points; score in transition; score off offensive rebounds; score on cuts to the basket and other plays... They've even got some guys that could be OK mid-range shooters (Blatche, Wall, Vesely) - but unless Rashard Lewis has a flash back to his 2007 self when he was hitting 41% of his 3-pointers, the only player on the roster that can consistently hit the long perimeter shot is Nick Young. And that ONE offensive skill is crucial to making sure that teams don't pack the lane against John Wall, and just dare the Wizards to shoot from long range - - With a roster full of non-shooters (Wall, Vesely, Booker, Singleton, Crawford, etc...), that's a recipe for disaster.


Out of 1105 offensive plays, I saw exactly THREE instances where Nick shot the ball and a teammate was (semi) open either under the basket, or closer to the basket with a clear lane to the hoop... THREE TIMES - and he hit one of those shots. Three times out of 1,105 offensive plays. That is exactly 0.0027149 (or less than 3 one thousanths). One third of one percent. Meaning statistically, it just didn't happen. My guess is that if I were to watch John Wall, Jordan Crawford, or just about any other player's plays from last year - I'd find a lot more missed passes. (Oh - and I intend to watch Crawford's plays)....

Nick is NOT good at creating offense for others... Most of his turn overs occurred when he attempted to pass to a teammate. He had 90 TO's last year (a miniscule number for a starter with that many minutes), but a large number of them were when Nick tried to pass to a teammate and turned the ball over (35 instances). Now, some of those turn overs could have been avoided had the teammate come to the ball, caught the tough pass, etc.... but even so, I counted ALL of those against Nick.  Other turn overs came when he dribbled too much, or when he set screens (he tends to jump into players on screens). Very few turn overs occurred on what you would consider "off the dribble" situations - Travelling, charging, steals, palming, etc... So in that sense, Nick is a good ball handler; for the limited amount of time he has the ball in his possession.

On the other hand, Nick is very good at creating offense for himself. A ton of Nick's Isolation plays were either end of the shot clock or end of quarter plays. Of the 179 isolation plays Nick was involved in, 87 of them were with less than 10 seconds on the shot clock, or at the end of a quarter. Clearly, in those instances, Nick was isolated to get a shot off.... (not to create a shot for someone else)... as the team usually cleared out and let Nick go to work one-on-one. Young hit a respectable 48.3% of his iso shots.

I also noticed that Nick was best when taking one or two dribbles - anything more was just asking for trouble; either a TO or a contested shot. That was one of Nick's shortcomings in previous years. The tendency to over dribble caused teammates to stand around, and allowed the defense to adjust; and gave Nick the deserved moniker of "ball stopper". The problem still exists today, BUT fortunately, someone has drilled into Nick exactly how he's supposed to play, and more importantly, how NOT to play. The plays where he over dribbled were very few and far between last year. So although he still gets into trouble over dribbling - it occurs much less frequently than years before. I only counted 32 plays (3%) where Nick dribbled excessively. Ten of those plays ended in Turn Overs (Traveling, Charging, steal, etc..), and 15 ended with a heavily contested shot. I excluded end of shot clock, end of quarter situations where Nick was isolated to get off a shot, since those were plays that required him to create something. I also excluded any drives where he went all the way to the rim.

Other than those two problems (bad passing, too much dribbling), Nick was remarkably sure handed with the basketball. He rarely gave the ball up off the dribble.. Almost never traveled and was rarely was so out of control to cause a charge. Part of that is the way the Wizards coaching staff has Nick playing on offense. He is either in constant motion, cutting around screens, OR drifting out to the corners or elbows beyond the 3-point line. Even on the fast break, he tends to fade to the corners, rather than cut to the rim. His offense is almost always dependent upon someone else creating room for him. 69% of Nicks shots were assisted. Compare that with McGee (54% assisted), Blatche (56% assisted) and Jordan Crawford (25% assisted) and you can see that more than anyone else, Nick relies on others to create offense for him.

Now let's compare way the Wizards used Jordan Crawford last year. More than 67% of Crawford's plays were either in Transition, Isolation or as the Pick-and-roll ball handler. Crawford was coming off screens, or spotting up only 22% of the time. And Crawford's isolation plays looked different than Nick's isolation plays. The Wizards usually cleared out for Nick, allowing him to take his man one-on-one to get a shot off - whereas iso's for Crawford had a lot more teammates moving, and more picks being set. Clearly, the Wizards wanted Crawford initiating offense;  creating for  himself and his teammates. The Wizards Coaching staff are maximizing Crawford's strengths (ability to create, floor vision, ability to get to the rim) and minimizing his weaknesses (25% spot up 3-point shooter - 0% off screens - - - that's right, ZERO PERCENT catch-and-shoot coming off screens).

To those who insist on pointing to the anemic assist numbers for Nick - let's remember what his role was on the team. His role was not to dominate the ball. He was not supposed to hold his dribble, survey the court, look for openings in the defense, create driving opportunities, which in turn create open shots for teammates - and then pass to them to take a shot. It was Nick's job to be continually moving without the ball. Running around screens. Setting up in the corners. His job was to get open and shoot. If he didn't get open, he didn't get the basketball. It's hard to get assists when you don't have the basketball - and when he DID get the basketball, it meant he was open and his Coach and teammates expected him to shoot. Clearly the Wizards coaching staff were maximizing Nick's strengths (46% spot up 3-point shooting - ability to catch-and-shoot off screens), and minimizing his weaknesses.

Here's to hoping the Wizards re-sign Nick Young and we see continued development of his efficient shooting in a FULL NBA season this year.

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