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Earth to team: Nick Young is improving

So it seems like Ed Tapscott has seen the light and realized that Nick Young deserves to play more than he has been recently.  To reiterate: it's not that Young is an infallable stud that is being buried, but rather it's simply that he's significantly outperformed the veteran players in front of him. 

At the same time, though, I need to make one thing clear in light of some of the stuff in that article.  Stuff like this:

Whether it's giving up an easy score defensively, taking an ill-advised shot or not being in the right place at the right time, Young's second season has looked a lot like his first, when he averaged 7.5 points on 43.9 percent shooting while committing a lot of the same mistakes.

And this:

Like Jordan, Tapscott has praised Young's work ethic and attitude. But he remains a one-dimensional talent, a player who flashes skills as a scorer but also tends to dribble too much and is not an exceptional passer or defender.

In time, the team hopes that Young will improve in those areas and become a more well-rounded player.

Are these things true?  Of course, to a certain degree

But is he same player he was when he was drafted?  Absolutely, unequivocally no.  The fact of the matter is that Nick's all-around game has made significant strides since he entered the league.  These are strides that we noticed last year as well when doing his player evaluation.

The knock on Nick Young coming out of college was that he couldn't do anything but score, and in his first season in the pros, he demonstrated that, Kobe comparisons aside, to a certain degree he couldn't do much else but score.  But even so, I'm actually pretty encouraged by Young's rookie year.

The reason?  The man got better as the season progressed. -PM

March was by far Young's best month (10.6 ppg, 2.1 reb, 51.9 fg%, 50% 3p%), so he clearly gained offensive confidence towards the end of the season. -Truth

Those strides continued this year before he got benched.  While far from being a finished product, Nick deserves to be rewarded with more playing time for progressing.

Let's take out the elements of Nick's game that were mentioned in that article:

"Taking an ill-advised shot" - Shot selection

There are so many ways to measure what constitutes an "ill-advised" shot that it's pointless to find a universal definition.  No doubt about it, Nick still takes a low of low-percentage mid-range jumpers.  Indeed, if you define "ill-advised" shots as meaning "too many jumpers and not enough close shots," then Nick has taken a step back.  Eighty-three percent of his shots have been jumpers this season, compared to 76 percent last year.   

But let's think about this a different way.  One way to measure "ill-advised" shots is to look at Young's shooting percentages.  If they are down, then intuitively he's taking bad shots.  Another is to measure exactly how many shots Nick is taking.  If he still takes the same type of shots, it'd be nice if he took fewer of them.

So, what's our result?

Nick Young's 2007/08 true shooting percentage: 52.7%
Nick Young's 2008/09 true shooting percentage: 52.9%

Okay, about the same.  But what about the second part of the above statement?

Nick Young's 2007/08 usage rate: 24.9%
Nick Young's 2008/09 usage rate: 22.3%

Nick Young's 2007/08 FGA/36 minutes: 14.9
Nick Young's 2008/09 FGA/36 minutes: 13.8

So basically, Young is posting the same true shooting percentage while using fewer possessions and taking fewer shots.  He's being smarter with his shot selection, electing to move the ball instead of forcing the shot more often.

Does he still need to improve?  Yes.  Has he gotten better anyway?  Hard to say no.

"Tends to dribble too much and is not an exceptional passer"

I wish there was a stat out there for the percentage of each possessions in which one player controls the ball.  Without that, though, there are still ways to measure these criticisms.

We can use assist percentage as a way to measure one's passing ability.  It can't tell the whole story, but it provides a real clue.  The dribbling too much thing is more difficult to measure, because it's difficult to put a number on the "distrubting the offensive flow" criticism.  Still, we can at least say that, if the flow was really disturbed, then the team would likely have a lower offensive rating with Nick on the court.  In addition, if Nick was dribbling too much, we could say that his turnover rate would display this. 

So what do we get?

Young's assist percentage 07/08: 9.6%
Young's assist percentage 08/09: 11.6%

Young's turnover percentage 07/08: 15%
Young's turnover percentage 08/09: 11.1%

Team offensive rating with Young on court 07/08: 104.6 (7.3 points worse than when off court)
Team offensive rating with Young on court 08/09: 106.3 (2.1 points worse than when off court)

Again, we see improvement across the board.  Young's passing better, turning the ball over considerably less and has become more essential to the team's offensive rating.  He's still not all the way there -- 11.6% is still a pretty bad assist rate and the team still does perform better offensively with him off the court -- but he's improving. 

The turnover rate improvement is very, very key.  One of the big criticisms of Young has been his propensity for turnovers.  Yet if you compare his 2008/09 turnover rate to the career TO% of Antonio Daniels, known to be one of the surest hands in the league, it's pretty comparable.  AD's career turnover percentage is 10.9%, only 0.2 points better than Young's mark this year.  Nick's gotta keep it up, of course, but that's a major improvement.

"Giving up an easy score defensively"

Nick's defense is obviously very hard to evaluate.  I don't have any clips in front of me, which would make it easier, so I'll just have to go off my perceptions when saying that, while Nick still has room to grow, he has gotten better on that end.  He still gets torched a lot, but he's making strides. 

The numbers mostly bear this out.  Counterpart data shows that opposing shooting guards are posting a 13.4 PER against Nick this year, whereas last year that number was 19.  Last year, the Wizards' defensive rating with Nick on the court was 113.6; this year, it's down to 106.4.  Last year, the Wizards were 4.5 points worse/100 possessions on defense with Nick on the court (same links as above); this year, they're 14.6 points better (though much of that has to do with DeShawn Stevenson's defensive struggles). 

The numbers are clearly misleading and unreliable in some respects, but it's hard to argue that Nick hasn't also improved defensively.  My eyes tell me that (though I have no clips to prove it), and the numbers paint an exaggerated picture as to Nick's defensive improvement.  Either way, it's hard to argue that Nick hasn't taken any strides on that end. 

"Young's second season has looked a lot like his first"

As indicated throughout this post, the truth is that, no, it hasn't.  Young still has room to grow.  He still needs to become more well-rounded than he already is, because he has the potential to be a great scorer, a decent passer, an excellent ballhandler and at least a passable defender.  But in all of those respects, Young has demonstrated improvement this year, even though the cast around him has fallen off considerably. 

For all those strides, Nick Young deserves to play more than he has.  Not because he is a finished product, but rather because he is one of the few players on the team who has progressed with his weaknesses.  For that progression, he deserves to be rewarded instead of benched for not going even further.