This is the time of year in which we begin to wonder which players will make significant improvement from one season to the next. One player who should be sufficiently motivated is Nick Young. The 2010/11 season marks Nick’s final season of his rookie contract, which means that he will be playing for his next contract. Whether that will be with the Wizards or another team will likely unfold before our eyes.
Following his impressive performance in the 2009 Summer League and training camp, Nick’s 2009/10 season began with promise. However, he was not able to develop into the consistent force that the coaching staff had desired, for proof of this, look no further than minutes played. Compared with the 2008/9 season, Nick saw his average MPG (22.4 to 19.2) and the total number of games played (82 to 74) each decline. A reduction in Nick’s playing time clearly negatively impacted his offensive statistics as shown by a decline in his scoring average from 10.9 (2008/9) to 8.6 (2009/10) points per game.
Young’s season was a mixed bag. While his play was inconsistent, he did have some solid performances. Young started 23 games last year, which was his highest number since joining the team in 2007. He also played in 74 games, 1 fewer than his rookie season. And at the end of the season, he was given an opportunity for consistent playing time in which he started the final 10 games of the season. His previous longest stretch during the season was 8 games from November 21 – December 10.
As we look back at his performance, we will view it primarily through three lenses - his first 13 starts, last 10 starts and all 23 starts comparing each with his career averages. The hope is that this will provide us with a sense of what aspects of Nick’s game progressed or receded during the 2009/10 season. This exercise will hopefully provide us with insight into the areas that he could further develop during the off-season.
First 13 starts:
During this stretch of games, Nick Young’s minutes per game increased by 31% (25:05 vs. career average of 19:10). However, 25 MPG is not a tremendous amount of time for a starter and would seem to indicate that the coaching staff was not completely comfortable with is performance. During this period, his performance appeared to be either feast or famine. Nick’s total MPG appears to be directly proportional to his shooting percentage – now in reality; it probably has more to do with the type of shot he was taking, when in the shot clock he was taking the shot, and whether or not he looked to see if a teammate had a better shot.
When looking only at the statistics, which clearly don’t tell the entire story, it is interesting to note that when Young’s shot was going, he played more minutes. And when Nick’s shots were not, he played fewer minutes. It is also important to point out that there were notable exceptions to this rule. During games against Toronto and Cleveland, both games in which Nick struggled with his shot, he still played significant minutes. When you look at the rest of his stat line it appears that in these games he found other ways to contribute (i.e. rebounds, defense, etc.).
Compared to his career averages, Young’s shot attempts increased by 32% from the field, but the number that he made only increased by 11%. When you compare his field goal percentage, during this stretch, with his career average you notice that it declined by 25% (0.328 versus 0.435), this gives you a sense of how inconsistent his shot was during this stretch of starts. Similarly, while his number of attempted and made three pointers increased, his actual 3P% decreased by 21% (0.300 vs. 0.380). On the positive side, Young did increase his scoring average slightly from his career average of 9.1 to 9.8 PPG, during this stretch.
During his initial 13 starts he made free throws at a slightly higher rate (0.929 vs. 0.826). However, he was also attempting 15% fewer free throws. These offensive statistics tend to generally indicate two things: (1) Nick is a volume shooter and (2) he relies more on his jumper than on attempting to get closer to the basket for higher percentage shots.
Nick was able to increase his rebounding (44%), assists (71%) and steals (35%) – each of which will help keep you on the floor when your shot is not falling. And while he has never been a shot blocking machine, and how many guards are, he did see his shot blocking number decline by 62%. Nick also saw his turnovers and personal foul numbers increase during this stretch of the season. These slight increases in turnovers and personal fouls appear to be more of a factor of Young being on the floor for more minutes, rather than anything more troubling. (For example, when you compare the first 13 starts vs. the last 10 starts, Young was able to reduce his turnovers and personal fouls by 20% and 7% respectively, while playing about 8 more minutes per game.)
Last 10 starts:
During the final 10 games of the season, Nick Young saw his most significant increase in playing time during his young career. Over this 10 game period, his minutes increased to 33 MPG, which is a 77% increase over his career average of 19 MPG. Additional playing time provide Young with additional shot opportunities. And in this respect, he did not disappoint.
Young’s shot attempts increased by 63% from the field and his number made increased by 65%. However, Nick’s field goal percentage during this stretch still declined slightly (4%) compared with his career average. Not too surprisingly Nick increased his number of three point attempts by 132% (4.4 shots per game versus 1.9) and makes by 171% (1.9 vs. 0.7 makes per game). This, in part, helped him to increase his 3P% during this stretch by 29% compared to his career averages (0.488 vs. 0.380). And during this 10 game stretch, Young was able to improve his scoring average by 67% from 9.1 to 15.2 PPG.
Further positive news, Nick was also able to get to the line a little more frequently during this stretch. His free throw attempts increased by 37% and he made his free throws at a slightly higher percentage (0.869) than his career average (0.826). Nick was also able to increase his rebounding (31%) and assists (11%) during this stretch. However, his steals (-25%) and blocks (-50%) declined compared with his career averages. And while his turnovers were flat, compared to his career averages, he did slightly increase his number of fouls committed by 28%. Overall, during this stretch Nick performed well offensively. Seven out of 10 games he scored in double figures and three out of 10 games he scored 20 or more points.
All 23 starts:
When all 23 starts are compared against Nick Young’s career averages, it becomes clear that Nick is the type of player who needs minutes (and shots) to find his rhythm. Generally speaking, as his playing time increases, so does his offensive statistics. However, since Nick has not appeared to focus on the other aspects of the game, when his shot is not falling the coaches often have no choice but to pull him from the game.
Nick could use to become a more efficient player, taking fewer shots to score his points. In part, he could do this by driving to the hoop more frequently and settling less for lower percentage shots. It would help him and the team if he could increase his number of assists (1.3 APG for all 23 starts). At this stage, when the ball hits Nick’s hands, a shot is going up. Statistically speaking, Nick rarely is looking for an open teammate. Nick can also help the team by more actively grabbing rebounds, particularly against smaller guards, and working harder on the defensive end.
When you quickly compare and contrast the first 13 starts versus his final 10 starts, it is clear that Nick’s offensive game improved later in the year. But, if he focuses on the little things such as rebounding, defense and passing the ball those things will carry him when his shot is not falling. Focusing more effort on driving the ball will get him chances at higher percentage shots, while also helping him get to the line more frequently when his shot is not falling.
While the team wants him to make open jumpers, he cannot make the mistake of falling in love with his jump shot at the expense of the rest of his game. When his shot is falling he can clearly score with nearly anyone, however when it is not he has yet to figure out how to consistently help the team in other ways.
If Nick continues to make progress during the off-season, and if Flip Saunders and the coaching staff can make use of his skill set, it will be interesting to watch Nick Young’s performance this coming season.