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Posted at 4:25 PM ET, 01/25/2011

What to make of Nick Young

By Kevin Broom

Nick Young is the Wizards’ Official Feel Good story of the season. He’s scoring points. He’s shooting well. His defense has been not bad. That’s the storyline, and while I’ve spent the past couple weeks trying to talk myself into believing it, I just don’t. The more I watch and research, the more convinced I am that Young’s performance this season is fool’s gold.

I am not asserting that Young is a lousy basketball player. But, as they rebuild, the Wizards must analyze each player with an eye toward the future. What kind of player does he project to be? Is he a building block or a role player? While Young’s scoring has been nice, he doesn’t do enough to be a long-term building block, and his skill set is such that he doesn’t make much of a role player.

I’ll start with offense since that’s Young’s primary contribution on the floor. Much is made of Young’s scoring, and with some reason. He’s leading the team in scoring, and his offensive rating (points produced per 100 individual possessions) is an above-average 111. The Wizards are scoring about 102 points per 100 possessions; league average is 106.7.

But how Young plays the game leads to at least a couple problems. First, Young’s efficiency isn’t sustainable. Second, his offensive game doesn’t help his teammates.

Ask an NBA coach what shot he would want his opponents to take in their half-court offense, and he’ll say the long two-pointer. That’s because long twos are converted only slightly more frequently than three-point attempts, but they don’t carry that bonus point. Long twos are the least efficient shots in the game, yet Young’s offensive game is built on it.

Is Young an exception? After all, he’s shooting an excellent 49.5% from that range so far this season. However, the season-long number obscures the fact that until Young became the starter, he was making 57.4% of his long twos. Since stepping up to more defensive attention and stiffer competition, Young has been shooting 42.9% — dropping closer and closer to the 40.5% he shot from that range in his first three seasons.

Young’s heavy reliance on long twos (they comprise 38% of his FGA) presents some difficulties for the Wizards offense. In addition to the drop-off in efficiency since becoming a starter, taking long twos means he doesn’t get fouled very often. Young shoots just 4.2 free throws per 40 minutes, a low number for such a high-usage player. This means he's not stressing the defense, he's not helping his teammates by getting them into the penalty, and he's not challenging opposing bigs to stay out of foul trouble.

Third, and perhaps most importantly, Young’s offensive success is dependent on teammate screens and passes. 66% of his baskets are assisted, including 73% of his long jumpers. Since he’s not posting up or driving to the basket with regularity, he’s rarely in position to set up teammates. He scores because he’s agile, he’s a good shooter — and because the team runs plays for him. The coaching staff has expertly simplified his decision-making to a basic binary “catch-and-shoot” or pass it back to the PG.

Young’s inability to help his teammates shows up in the on/off data. Including Young, there are 16 players this season with similar offensive efficiency and usage rate. On average, those players’ teams are 6.1 points per 100 possessions better when they’re on the floor. Young doesn’t make a difference: they’re 0.5 points per 100 possessions better; an insignificant change. Only Louis Williams in Philly and Shannon Brown for the Lakers have less effect on their teams’ offenses than Young.

Young has value to the Wizards in this lost season because their other offensive options are so limited. In the future, the team will add other good scorers, which will then accentuate how limited Young’s game is. But, before I go down that path, let’s get some historical perspective from Mike Goodman, a researcher at the Association for Professional Basketball Research (APBR).  Goodman has an array of statistical tools, including something he calls the “Euclidian Similizer” (seriously), which compares a player’s stats to others throughout NBA history.

According to the Similizer, Young’s production this season most resembles the following players: Dale Ellis, Kiki Vandeweghe, Glen Rice, Jeff Malone and Peja Stojakovic. Not a terrible list at first glance, except — Young does less non-scoring work than any of them. Of the ten “similars” Goodman provided, Young is second to last in rebounding (ahead of only Malone), and last in assists. Even among a group of non-rebounding, non-passing guards and forwards, Young doesn’t measure up in the non-scoring categories.  Plus, none of them ever won anything as their team’s alpha offensive option.

Goodman’s analysis illustrates that Young’s game is staggeringly one-dimensional.

“If I insert him among my All-Time 650 ‘substantial’ careers, these are the lowest in my versatility index,” Goodman said.

.52 Young (2011 only)

.56 Chris Dudley

.57 Mark West

.57 Mark Eaton

.57 Eddy Curry

.58 Greg Ostertag

.58 Samuel Dalembert

.58 Jeff Malone

.58 Steve Kerr

Of the top 360 players in minutes this season (12 players per team), only 11 players have a lower score in Goodman’s versatility index — Joey Graham, Emeka Okafor, Kwame Brown, Anthony Morrow, Serge Ibaka, Raul Lopez, Joel Anthony, Brendan Haywood and Ike Diogu. Of these, only Okafor has played more minutes than Young.

Finally, let’s look at defense. There are persuasive arguments that Young is a solid defender. The Wizards have been better defensively the past couple years with Young on the floor, largely been because Young does a nice job challenging shots and staying in front of his man. However, his impact is muted because he’s a poor help defender and an atrocious rebounder.  While his defensive contributions are worthwhile, they’re not enough to offset the fact that his overall floor game is so deficient.

For Young to be part of the team’s long-term plans, the Wizards would have to carefully construct their roster around him.  They’d need to cater to him offensively, and acquire players to compensate for his many shortcomings.  But, he’s not a talent that’s special enough to warrant that kind of effort.

Much of NBA player evaluation is based on the simple glory stat: points per game. The Wizards should exploit that by trading Young for more versatile assets that will actually fit into the team’s long-term plans. They won’t strike it rich by investing in fool’s gold.

By Kevin Broom  | January 25, 2011; 4:25 PM ET
Categories:  Kevin Broom, Wizards  
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Comments

Great article if you are looking backward.

Nick rebounds are up to 3.9 in Jan and his assists are up to 2.5 and he recently had an 8 rebounds game and a 5 assist game.

His rebounds last year we 1.4 and his assists .6

The coaches have been working on first establishing parts of Nicks game as consistent and in the flow of the offense. That was done with pts off the bench and now as a starter. Nick biggest problem has been mental. He was to streaky. He was either on a high or in the gutter. Now he much more mentally strong and steady.

Now they are working on widening his game. Nick is work in progress and he has made great strides this year. Looking backward has little use.

Article grade - D

Posted by: hands11 | January 25, 2011 11:43 PM | Report abuse

KB:

You don't need the aside from the statistician to make your point about Young...

This article hit the nail on it's absolute head. Young isn't a good defender and streak shooter....this article basically encapsulates everything I've always thought about Young. It's like a refusal, a REFUSAL to play team defense with Young most of the time.

I'd swear that for the past 2 years ago watching the Wizards-I thought Young was 'high' most of the games-that's how bad he is on defense. I actually thought he was getting high. Even his offensive game is-as you alluded to-odd. He's not quite Vinnie the Microwave, not quite Ben Gordon, not quite Jeff Malone, not quite...

Young just an o-o-kay player, nothing special. He's like a no-man's Ray Allen, but even Allen will occasionally snare a few rebounds r go try to dunk on someone.

Posted by: ArmchairGM | January 26, 2011 12:25 AM | Report abuse

that's "...rebounds OR go try to dunk on someone." ....enter,bad...bad,enter... :-p

Posted by: ArmchairGM | January 26, 2011 12:28 AM | Report abuse

I thought this was well-reasoned, but OTO I'm not sure we have any right to expect Nick to be something he's not. Start with a kid selected in that netherworld between 15-20 -- how many turn out to be stars? Then he's got a bad habit of making every shot more difficult with his compulsion to juke and fall backwards. I went into this season hoping for two things from Nick: he'd play enough defense to stay on the court at crunch time, and he'd hit those outside shots (providing a threat opposite Blatche, who I thought would be better than he turned out to be.) Nick's done both of those. So IMO he's not JR Smith, which is what I was afraid he'd turn out to be.

Core player for the future? I've never been convinced of that. But much improved from his first seasons? Heck yes.

Posted by: Samson151 | January 26, 2011 8:59 AM | Report abuse

Yeah, I just disagree. If he's what you wanted, we'd be better, and therefore, not a rebuilding team. But, we are, so he's not that good. Whether that's because of the team, because of him, or both, is the debate. Simply looking at his statistics is marginally effective, I think.

It also does not mean that he is forever doomed to this. Certainly, he's improved. I mean, you just take all of these wacky statistics and stamp the kid as replaceable.

I like watching him play, and think we just stink. He has to force shots because we have no offense, and other times, because he just takes bad shots. His offball defense looks bad because he's not that good at it, and also because our team defense stinks.

That doesn't mean he can't help at building the team. I mean, all rebuilding teams stink at one point, and if you peer into each player's statistics, clearly the numbers will likely back that up. That's not a surprise.

Posted by: AndrewToussaint7 | January 26, 2011 9:50 AM | Report abuse

100% on point about Young. Have been saying these kinds of things to anyone who will listen. People are wowed by the scoring but it's just empty calories. Fool's gold is the perfect expression for him. Well done.

Posted by: ArtMonkToTheSticks | January 26, 2011 10:59 AM | Report abuse

So you're saying that all he can do is score at a high clip (which you assume he cannot sustain) and his on the ball defense. He just doesn't much in betwee...hmmmm he can score and play man to man defense...i would take that out of my two then what most other people do. You can slant stas any way you wish to prove a point but the Wizards back court is not the issue at hand (btw you forget to mention his awesome ability to keep turnovers low because of his efficient style of scoring). He is being used like a Rip Hamilton on offense. Thats not a bad thing...

Posted by: merajc86 | January 26, 2011 11:00 AM | Report abuse

KB,

I tend to agree with hands11 that your assessment of NY is a bit dated. He has definitely struggled with increased defensive attention. Who doesn't? He does get most of his shots off of passes, but that's actually a bit more of a positive in my book in that he's getting them out of the context of the offense (such as it is) as opposed to Nick 1.0 which featured a lot of overdribbling. And his rebounding numbers and assist numbers have steadily begun to improve. Even his help defense, which I have always been critical of, has improved.

With all of the defensive attention he gets now, he does have to learn to look for his teammates more. But that's been a criticism leveled at better players than he is. He still has room to grow in all of those areas, but this is really the first season where I have seen signs that he has begun to figure things out.

Through the course of this season, they really have begun to rely on him to carry a big part of the offensive load, which also means he gets a lot of opportunities. So, much as happened with AB from last year to this, I'm curious to see what happens if and when the Wizards get better or Nick goes to another team, and gets fewer opportunities. With he revert to previous form, or will he continue to grow as a player?

Posted by: ts35 | January 26, 2011 11:06 AM | Report abuse

Thank you for some good analysis.

Here's an oddity that i never saw any comment about. On 1/11 the Wiz beat the Kings 136-133 OT. Nick Young had a career high 43 pts, but only a +/- of +2

http://scores.espn.go.com/nba/boxscore?gameId=310111027

If they had lost i might find it slightly understandable, but they won a tight game; he scored a career high and still had nearly negative +/-

Kevin, i tried to send you an email; but apparently your email addy doesn't use the same format as other Post writers.

Posted by: ubetonit | January 26, 2011 2:22 PM | Report abuse

Very well written analysis that hits the target, dead center. There's no question Young has improved as a player, but context is everything. He's a guy well-built to be the leading scorer on a really bad team. But his 1-dimensionality and reliance on his teammates to set him up will reduce him to a role player on a good, playoff-quality team.

Posted by: kalo_rama | January 26, 2011 4:21 PM | Report abuse

I'm observing people discounting the use of stats because its not what they're used to seeing in box scores or on sportscenter.

I find the statistics to be both very telling in their own right and consistent with what my eyes tell me. Nick's fine, but he nothing special. He's a decent scorer on a terrible team, and nothing more.

Given Nick's impending free agency -- and the fact that the Wiz are in the infancy of a rebuild -- it's appropriate to ask "What to Make of Nick Young." Is this a guy we want to commit to as part of our future, or not?

It all depends on the price, but I'd be loathe to devote significant resources to Young. Even if I close my eyes, I just can't imagine the guy being a core piece of a consistently good team.

Posted by: TheFunBunch | January 26, 2011 4:32 PM | Report abuse

Nick young's defense is dramatically improved as his transition ball handling; he is bringing the ball up increasingly more. He has become much more selective than in 2009. The assists are recently up as is the rebounding. His is getting to the rim in half court sets more. In other words, he is becoming much less one dimensional. He is a much more explosive version of Richard Hamilton (circa 2003) with much better range.

Posted by: audacitea | January 26, 2011 6:48 PM | Report abuse

I agree with alot of that but I don't believe that the reason Young does not post up much is becuase of his own doing. I have been saying this forever but obviously no one is listening. The guy has a natural faseway shot and at 6'7inches can post most guards. Flip tinks blatches is his best post player but it's Young. He also could command a double team in the post and thereby alow the ball to be swung to an open player. The NBA game is so easy. Have a player that commands a double team and then swing the ball to open shooters. SOME PLEASE TELL FLIP TO RUN PLAYS FOR YOUNG IN THE POST!!! He's not Rip!

Posted by: ptp09 | January 26, 2011 8:18 PM | Report abuse

This is all correct. But why couldn't Young be a good role player ala Steve Kerr? But him on a 2nd team squad, play him 16 minutes a game, and have him play with a bunch of strong defenders/strong rebounders. That way he would be a one-man offense to spell the starters.

Posted by: bj2000 | January 27, 2011 8:33 AM | Report abuse

This is a rebuilding team, with obviously no studs to bang inside and this is Nick's 1st time starting and leading scorer for the team, so obviously he is going to face more complex defense nightly. Clearly, he is adjusting and is getting better. Yes, he needs to work on team defense like everyone else. This is the NBA and if you are the leading scorer on any team, and at times you are the team's only option, offensively, that isn't bad. I am going to take this nonsense of an article for what it is. Anyone who plays basketball can clearly see that the kid is on the right path and with Flip's help he can be a solid NBAer.

Posted by: md207 | January 27, 2011 10:52 AM | Report abuse

This article is just plain silly.

Anyone who after looking at the starting SGs in this league right now thatwould somehow decide Nick Young is not a legitimate starter in this league, doesn’t deserve to be writing about basketball. Period.

The guy is averaging 20 points with teams basically focusing their defense on him. He is athletic, a legitimate rebounder when he isn’t running to protect the backcourt while Wall is driving, a reasonable defender, and legitimate threat from 3 point range. Other than a lack of ball handling skills and consistent slashing, he is what you need.

Who is going to start in front of him? Kyle Korver? Evan Turner? JJ Reddick?

We can look at stats all we want. But anyone that watches basketball, goes to the games, and understands what is needed in the NBA can see the basics.

Should he be the number 1 option on an NBA team? Heck no. Should the Wizards consider drafting a SG to replace NY instead of a SF/PF/C first? You have to be out of your mind.

This article could be about Blatche as much as young..."Long 2s" anyone?

This nonsense needs to stop. Let the guy grow. We have much bigger worries.


Stop the Nick Young hatred. The past is the past.

Posted by: justmy2 | January 27, 2011 8:27 PM | Report abuse

To Hades with all that dumb statistical conjecture: Nick is not a particularly smart player, but he's EASILY the best shooter on this team. Period. Nobody is gonna trade us a better player for him, so the options are quite limited. Therefore, let him play his game and we'll live with that. As coach, I would require him to go to the bucket at least twice a quarter just to keep his defenders honest and PROVE that he will fake and go to the hole. Other than that, let's FIRST hire a former NBA center to tutor McGee. We've been asking for that for AT LEAST THREE YEARS now: if that is what Wes Unseld, Jr is supposed to be doing, it obviously ain't working; hJunior must've missed some things that his father taught him. Rashard, I think the Majic messed w/your head when they brought in Vince Carter: tough it up and start shooting like you know you can. stop worrying about missing, just keep shooting good shots! who does that leave? yawl know who you are. step it up and smarten up!

Posted by: dcjazzman | January 28, 2011 11:46 PM | Report abuse

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