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Prospect profile: Nick Young

With the draft a month away, we're going to take a look at some of the potential Wizard draftees, starting today with USC's Nick Young.

For all the talk about the Wizards needing an impact frontcourt player, the far greater need might be wing depth.  Jarvis Hayes is likely a goner, DeShawn Stevenson very well could be, and Donnell Taylor and Roger Mason are both free agents.  The Wizards have only three wings/guards under contract: Gilbert Arenas, Antonio Daniels, and Caron Butler.  

Enter Young.  The star of a USC team that upset Texas on it's way to the Sweet 16, Young has what scouts like to call "an NBA body."  At 6'6-195, Young is the type of athlete that can succeed on the wing, even though he often played as a perimeter-oriented 4 during his college career (but less so this year).  He's long enough (6-11 wingspan) to play the 3, but possesses the skills necessary to play the 2.  

Young's offensive game is very polished.  He's the rare college star that has a developed mid-range game.  Less than a quarter of the shots he attempted were from beyond the arc.  His pull-up jumper is excellent, as is his post game.  It's one thing to have his body, but it's another to use it well.  Young uses his body well offensively.

His raw numbers this past season look pretty similar to 2005/06, but they don't tell the story of his offensive improvement.  Young became a much, much more efficient offensive player last year.  His field goal percentage went from 46.7 to 52.5, and his effective field goal percentage and true shooting percentage each improved by 7 percentage points.  He developed his three-point shot, hitting on 44 percent in 06/07 after just hitting 33 percent in 05/06.  The only reason his scoring didn't go up was because he used only 20 percent of USC's possessions, down from 24 percent in 05/06.

In short, his offensive game is very developed.  Better yet, it's the type of offensive game that translates well to the pros.  You can tell from the latest Draft Express article on him.

It's here that his true colors as a scorer really come out, showing outstanding footwork to create space for himself, an excellent assortment of jabs, fakes and pivots (it's obvious here that he emulates Kobe Bryant), and multiple release points to get his shot off in many different ways. He's an instinctive scorer, a self-made player who takes what the defense gives him. He has a great little wiggle he uses to keep his man off balance and constantly guessing as to what his next move will be, as well as the shooting stroke and quick release needed to give his jab-steps from the triple-threat position all the credibility in the world. He loves going to the turnaround jumper, getting his man to commit to his shot-fake and then pivoting fluidly right into a gorgeous fade-away.

The only thing that concerns me about his offensive game is his lack of playmaking ability.  His assist-turnover ratio has always been well under 1, and was a career-low 0.56 this year.  He's definitely a ball-stopper offensively, and I'm worried that he'll try to do too much with the ball instead of letting Arenas, Butler, and Jamison do the one-on-one play.  The other thing is that it seems he succeeded on the college level because he was able to shoot over his opponents, which definitely won't happen in the pros.  

But as we all know, the Wizards don't need more offense.  The bigger question is his defense, and on that regard, it's still tough to tell.

The tricky thing about evaluating Young's defense is that he played very few games at his likely pro position.  In USC's small-ball attack, Young often played the 4 alongside small guards like Gabe Pruitt and Loderick Stewart.  In short, we don't have a big sample size of him guarding smaller guys.  He consistently did a good job of guarding bigger guys, and he did an excellent job guarding UNC's Brendan Wright for a while in their Sweet 16 loss, but I doubt he gets those opportunities in the pros.

The biggest knock on Young's defense is that he gambles and goes for steals too much.  I've read in multiple places that he loses focus too easily.  Honestly, he sounds a lot like Caron Butler in that regard.  Butler' very athletic, but doesn't have great defensive fundamentals.  

Despite all that, I'm confident Young can become a good NBA defender.  In USC's attack, Young was the focal point, and he had to save his energy for offense.  That's not going to happen if he comes to DC, not with Arenas, Butler, and Jamison doing most of the scoring.  I also think it'll help to have a defined defensive role.  At USC, he checked a lot of different people, kind of like Shawn Marion does for Phoenix.  Finally, how many college stars are great, fundamentally-sound defenders right away?  Most of them learn to become better defenders once they realize they won't be the focal point of their offense.  I'm confident Young can be the same way.

Overall, Young at 16 sounds like pretty good value to me, but it's definitely not a slam dunk.  I'm definitely worried about his defensive inconsistency, especially because those problems are the same ones that plague the Wizards.  But I also think he can get better once he learns that his job is mostly to defend.  I'm also worried about his lack of playmaking ability, which is a bigger problem in the Princeton offense.  The alternatives, though, aren't too much better, and the Wizards aren't the type of team that needs great passing anyway.

Pro Comparisons: Caron Butler, Tim Thomas, Ronnie Brewer.

Where do you stand on Nick Young?  Good fit?  Overrated?  Would you draft him?