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Lessons from tracking Nick Young's mind-boggling Summer League passivity

Previously...JaVale McGee is a very undisciplined defender, and Dominic McGuire does all the unnoticed things.

It's unmistakably clear that this is a huge offseason for Nick Young.  As discussed in our player evaluation, he showed a lot of flashes in his rookie season, but demonstrated that he has a long way to go to be a bona-fide player in this league.  His non-scoring production was terrible, and even his scoring pop was mitigated by his struggles finishing close to the basket and his struggles playing off the ball in the Princeton ofense.  Still, managemet (and myself) believed he was close enough to a finished product for the team to elect not to re-sign Roger Mason, freeing up more backup minutes for Young. 

Then, Summer League arrived.  What began as a great chance for Young to carry over his improvement from the second half of the regular season instead turned into a disaster.  It began with Young dubbing himself a part of the "Little Three" and went downhill from there.  He was pretty erratic as a rookie in Summer League, but at least then he looked good, even if tons of shots were clanking off the iron.  This year, he was far worse.

My original plan was to look at Young's defense, assuming his scoring was hardly a problem, but his terrible Summer League performance changed my mind.  As such, I'm going to track Young during the game against Cleveland where he shot 1-9 and contributed very little to the team's first Summer League win.  Watching the game, it was mystifying to see someone that should have been in the dunk contest last year look so unathletic and out of it.  I don't know if Young was sick, tired from being out of shape, thinking too much on the court or hung over from partying too much in Vegas, but I couldn't believe how little he was doing out there.  Making matters worse, when he did do the right thing, he would mess something up at the end to prevent the play from being successful.  It was, in short, a pretty bad performance. 

Here goes:

First four and a half minutes: Young has literally been an invisible man in this game.  He's not making any cuts offensively, grabbing rebounds defensively or even handling the ball.  If the ball is swung to him within the offense, he's passing off and camping out beyond the three-point line on the weakside.  The Wizards haven't run any plays for him.

Already, I'm thinking, "Crap, he's not going to be able to do anything the rest of the game." 

5:33, first: One thing I noticed from Young is that, even when he does cut, it's not particularly crisp or hard.  He doesn't really set up his opponent well, and smarter defenders catch on to that.

Here, in his first real involvement in the game, he starts way beyond the three-point line on the right side and runs Clay Tucker right into a JaVale McGee backscreen.  Again, Young doesn't really set Tucker up to the middle but it works nonetheless.  He's wide open underneath the basket and gets the pass.  In order to put the ball up quickly (he's on the left side now), he flips a right-handed, blind reverse layup over his right shoulder that misses.

Not a bad idea, but he is clearly angry at himslf.  After he misses, he tapped the ball twice and it went out of bounds off the Cavaliers.  He then claps his hands, grimaces about missing and almost shakes his head  This is the bad body language we've discussed.  Normally, I don't care, but I can't shake the feelng that the missed layup will haunt him.

4:24, first: The way Young gets his only field goal of the game isn't exactly a confidence boost.  The Wizards are on a fast break and Andray Blatche, typically, has the ball.  He dribbles up the right wing and Young fades to the three-point line on the left side.  Blatche throws a cross-court pass and Young drains the three.

Interestingly, on the ensuing Cavaliers possession, Young skies to grab the rebound on a missed shot.  Concidence?

3:37, first - Young, playing point guard, feeds to Blatche on the left wing and cuts through the lane.  He stops and eventually runs off a McGuire screen to take the handoff on the right side from JaVale McGee.  Standard Princeton play, nothing special, except Young has eluded Billy Thomas.  He gets into the lane and draws a foul on J.J. Hickson.

See, he's capable of moving well off the ball,.  He just has to do it consistently.

1:20, first: Let's talk about Nick's ball-handling for a second.  He had a pretty terrible turnover ratio last year, as he struggled adjusting to the NBA game.  Yet I was actually fairly impressed with Nick's dribbling ability in Summer League.  He had problems with his passing, but he always struck me as a very skilled dribbler, which explains why he's able to run screen and roll even though he can't pass (more on this later).

Anyway, he pushed the ball one-on-three on a fastbreak, stopped on a dime to go behind his back on Billy Thomas and fed Jonathan Wallace for a short jumper.  Nice handles.

55.2, second: Two minutes ago, Young, standing completely upright, let a rebound that was right in his zone go to Billy Thomas, who hit the easy jumper.  Now, he calls out Andray Blatche for a side pick and roll near half-court on the right wing. 

Blatche's screen isn't bad, but Cleveland defends it well.  Nick pulls back and eventually starts dribbling into the right corner.  Again, he's a good dribbler.  He manages to avoid getting trapped, and makes a nice inside-out move to give him a tiny bit of daylight on the right baseline.  Unfortunately, Tractor Traylor is right there to cut off the lane, so Young launches a terrible floater that misses long.

NBATV analyst Tim Capstraw calls Young out for dribbling too much. 

5 seconds, second: I only mention this play because it shows why Nick is so intriguing.  With five seconds left in the half, he gets the ball at the top of the key, the Wizards' possession long broken down.  He gives a beautiful little crossover to free himself, but Cleveland helps well and forces him into a missed pull-up.

Nick's ability to create a shot, any shot, for himself is both a blessing and a curse. 

7:42, third: The Wizards have already run two plays for Young, but neither results in an open shot (the second time because, instead of fading to the corner on a baseline screen, he curls right to where his man is).  Now, Young and Blatche run a high pick-and-roll.

As Darnell Jackson comes to cut Young off, Young splits the double-team beautifully and goes marching down the lane.  Cleveland converges, leaving Dominic McGuire and Dee Brown open in both corners.  Easy play, right?

Instead, Nick tries to hurl his body through two defenders, the last being J.J. Hickson.  The end result is, obviously, an offensive foul. 

Good ball-handler.  Terrible passer.  We know this, but this play drove it home.

6:49, third: Young's inability to finish at the rim may have been the most disappointing part of the Summer League.  If he can't do it here, why would he do it against the pros?

On this play, Dee Brown gives him a wide-open chance in the middle of the lane, but instead of exploding, he jumps sideways, lands right in Darnell Jackson's chest, flips up an awkward lefty scoop shot and misses.  No foul because Jackson was right there. 

Joel Meyers: "It's almost like he wasn't prepared."

The ball goes out of bounds to the Wiz.  On the ensuing possesson, Nick finally makes a nice cut, diving backdoor.  McGuire, posting up on the left side, whips a pass that Young catches underneath the hoop.  It'd have been tough, but Young could have pivoted and powered himself to the rim.  He could have even tried a reverse layup back to the right side of the rim, though a help defender stayed ready for the block. 

Instead, he show a fadeaway from the left baseline that predictably fell short. 

2:45, fourth: Let's set the stage.  With the game on the line, Young looks like he's more involved, though he wouldn't succeed.

The Wizards run Young off two baseline screens, similar to what they did early in the third quarter.  Again, the Cavs shoot the gap on the left side, and again Young comes to it.  With Billy Thomas all over him, Young drifts to the corner.  Instead of driving, he steps back and shoots an awful jumper inside the three-point line that air balls. 

Not so aggressive, to say the least.

1:15, fourth: What makes Young so frustrating is that he does something so right while doing something so wrong on the very same possession.

The good: Young has been playing the de facto point guard spot in the fourth, bringing the ball up and making the pass to the wing.  He'd done so admirably, with the offensive foul in the third quarter being his only turnover of the game. 

Here, he feeds Dominic McGuire out on the right wing and goes to get a return handoff.  McGuire smartly fakes it when Young's defender overplays and dribbles to the middle.  Meanwhile, Young is circling backdoor as McGuire occupies the defense.  It's a hard cut, seemingly the only one of the night.

McGuire's pass is right on the money.  And now the probems start.

The bad: Young should have a dunk or a layup.  At the very least, he should draw a foul.  Cleveland's help defenders get there quickly, but if Young simply jumps into them and tries to score, he'll get fouled. 

Instead, Young jumps, colliding with J.J. Hickson.  Young could try to score, but he can't get enough on the ball to do it.  He's so explosive in the lead-up to the dunk contest, but couldn't even release a shot over a late-arriving J.J. Hickson. 

Young eventually throws a wild pass around Hickson's face to Gary Forbes, who eventually finds Blatche for the dagger bucket, but Young could have had it himself.  He made the right read, but couldn't finish.

And I think that's what's so frustrating with Young.  He is capable of making good cuts sometimes, but too often stands around without trying.  I assume the coaching staff is trying to get him to learn from Reggie Miller and Rip Hamilton, but those guys never stopped moving.  It seems like Young never really starts moving unless it's a critical situation.  That has to change, because he's certainly capable of getting open looks even if his defender catches up to him.  His one-on-one ability remains his true strength.

Additionally, he still can't finish at the rim!  He had three chances in this game.  On the first, he drew a foul on Hickson, but missed the shot.  On the second, he threw up an awkward lefty scoop that missed.  On the third, he was forced to pass despite being right under the basket.  Then, there was the play when he settled for a fadeaway instead of pivoting and finishing. 

He has to get stronger, no doubt.  But otherwise, he has the skills. He just needs to be mentally sharp to use them.  I have no idea whether his problem is physical, whether it relates to struggling early in the game, whether he's thinking too much trying to process what he's supposed to do or whether his head is in the clouds.  I don't exacty have the credentials or the access to determine that.

But I know his problems are all mental in some way.  He'll need to get over that to take his game to the next level.