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Is Nick Young's improved production sustainable?

Yeah, I know, this is an awkward time to come out with a post like this, after Nick Young's 4-15 stinker last night, but it's still worth asking because we've seen Young have hot stretches before.  Back in 2009, Young began the season with eight straight double-figure point games, dropped 28, 30 and 33 in a four-game stretch in mid-January and had four games of 20 or more points in a five-game stretch in late January and early February. Last year, he performed well as a starter in December and closed the year strong. 

So we've seen this kind of short hot stretch before.  Is this season different?  Through the first 16 games of the season, Young is putting up the following stat line (all career highs):

  • 19.6 points per 36 minutes
  • 3.1 rebounds per 36 minutes
  • 16.3 PER
  • 57.1 true shooting percentage
  • 4% turnover percentage (which is obscene)
  • An offensive rating of 117
If he can keep that up, he's a major asset that's worth re-signing after the year.  But can he keep it up?  The best way to answer this is to consider his shot locations.

The bad news is that, contrary to popular opinion, Young isn't really taking the ball to the basket any more than in years past.  In fact, he's shot more jumpers this year than in any year before.  Here's how his shot attempts have broken down by distance, per HoopData.

Year Rim <10 feet 10-15 feet 16-23 feet Threes
2007/2008 1.5 0.6 0.7 2.3 1.3
2008/2009 1.5 0.8 1.3 3.6 2.0
2009/2010 1.2 0.5 0.8 2.6 2.3
2010/2011 0.9 0.6 0.6 3.8 3.1

It's encouraging to see Young shoot more threes, since he's a very good deep shooter and it helps his scoring efficiency, but he's turning it layups for threes, not long jumpers for threes.  Young also isn't getting to the free-throw line much more than usual -- his 3.6 attempts/36 minutes is lower than his 2008 and 2009 rate.  You really could argue that Young's improved play is due to a huge spike in his percentage on 10-15-foot jumpers (66.7% this year, when his previous career high was 43 percent) and 16-23 foot jumpers (56 percent, compared to 41 percent last year).  Those percentages, to be frank, have no chance of sustaining themselves going forward.

Is there good news? Sure. For one, Young has been doing even more catch-and-shooting this year.  Over the summer, I noted how Young's game really changed last year, as he did less one-on-one play and more shooting off the catch.  That trend has continued to progress this season.  Nearly 60 percent of Young's 16-23 foot jumpers are assisted, compared to 53.8 percent last year, and all of his three-point shots have been assisted.  He struggled in the role last year, but now he appears more comfortable, which should mean his shooting percentages will improve over last season when it's all said and done.  Young has also done a great job of not turning it over -- the four-percent turnover rate would be second in the entire league if he played enough minutes. 

Throw in improved defense (the Wizards are once again several points better defensively with Young on the court than off it), and there's definitely been progression.  But if you're expecting Young to be this good all year, I wouldn't count on it.  His shooting will cool off a bit if he continues to show the same kind of shot distribution.

Again, that's not bad.  A cooler-shooting Young is still a helpful player.  But he also won't be quite this good going forward.