Consistency Is the Key for Young

It is a quiet weekday afternoon in the hallway between the Wizards’ locker room and the practice court. The post practice film session comes to a close and while the rest of his teammates get dressed, Nick Young, along with assistant coach Sam Cassell, jogs back onto the practice court for some extra shooting. The doors to the court are partially closed, yet open enough to hear the same sound which recites itself almost on cue every few seconds, “swish”…”swish”….”swish”…

Nick Young is shooting three-pointers from around the arc, and he’s not missing. His form is fluid, albeit unconventional. He fades a little on each shot with what appears to be a slight lean, but his balance and stroke are true and the ball has no problem finding the net. The ability to put the ball in the basket from anywhere on the court is a skill Nick Young has had since he first came to the Wizards. While it’s unquestionably Young’s best skill, it isn’t the reason for his breakout 2010-11 season.

The day is March, 30, 2008, and the Wizards are in Staples Center facing the best team in the West, the Los Angeles Lakers. Despite the spotlight, the scene isn’t too much for Young. In fact, he thrives on it to the tune of 27 points on 10-16 shooting.

The game is the highlight of a first year, which similar to most rookies, included peaks, valleys, and learning experiences around each turn. He plays the role as youthful rookie on a veteran-laden playoff-bound team.

While year one is a learning experience, years two and three could be described as mostly inconsistent with a sprinkle of sensational appearing along the way. In December of his second season, Young averaged just 6.9 ppg. and shot a poor 35% from the field in arguably his worst month as a pro.

Young followed that up with a string of performances that has everyone around the league talking. Over a four-game stretch he has games of 28, 30, and 33 points off the bench. Despite the spectacular week , Young is unable to keep the momentum going, scoring only 30 total points over the next seven games.

Young’s third year looks promising at first. He leaves training camp as the team’s starting shooting guard, but quickly falls out of the rotation due to consistency issues. It is a long season for Young who finally finds his groove towards the end of the season as he averages a career best 17.8 points per game in the month of April.

It’s the summer of 2010 and Young looks at himself introspectively; he knows that a change has to be made. The former first-round pick understands the team is rebuilding. Minutes will be available to all players and he has to take advantage of his opportunities.

He decides first and foremost to work on his body. He puts the time in at the gym, and adds 10 lbs of muscle to his previously wiry frame. With his body right, Young turns his attention to the court. He focuses on shot selection, defense, and moving without the ball.

Lastly and most importantly, Young works on getting his mind right. Throughout his three-year career, confidence continues to be a thorn in his side. When Young is rolling, he’s almost impossible to stop. When he misses a shot or two however, he too often gets in his own head and takes himself out of the game.

The 2010-11 season is underway and Young’s hard work is beginning to manifest itself onto the court. Young finishes with 20 points in back-to-back games. Then the inevitable happens: Young struggles. He goes 1 for 8 against Memphis. It is the type of game that in past years would have rendered him obsolete for the next few weeks. However, this season there is a different Nick Young, a Nick Young that is ready to handle adversity.

He responds with four straight games of at least 18 points including his first game-winning shot, a three-pointer in the corner to give the Wizards a two-point win in overtime over the Sixers.

“I didn’t want to let my teammates down. I was a little nervous but I always want to take that shot,” said Young following the game. “I stayed before in warm-ups… and it’s crazy because I worked on that shot before warm-ups.”

Two weeks later he sets a season-high with 30 points in a back and forth duo with Kobe Bryant. A week and a half later, Young is out-dueling Dwyane Wade and LeBron James, again scoring 30 points and terrorizing the Miami Heat. It’s a scenario Young, his teammates, and his head coach Flip Saunders are beyond ecstatic to see.

“I'm probably as proud of him as anybody we've had,” says Saunders. “I was on him a lot last year. There were times he was inactive because there was a way I wanted him to play and a way he felt he needed to play, as far as being more efficient. In the past, he would pound the ball trying to get his shots. Now he's coming off, making a quick decision, shooting it, or getting rid of it and he's having a lot of more success doing that. And defensively, he's showing more concentration."

Young agrees. “I’ve just been going out there and playing with confidence, knowing I have my teammates behind me, and my coaching staff behind me. I’ve just been trying to go out there and do whatever I can to help my team.”

Helping his team win has obviously meant scoring, but it has also meant being able to adapt to any role that the team has given him. In several matchups, Young has been given the task of guarding the best playmaker on the other team. In others, he has been asked to provide a spark off the bench.

"Ever since I have been here, Young could definitely score," says backcourt mate Kirk Hinrich. "My opinion before I got here was that he is an explosive scorer. (Now) he is trying hard to do the right thing, concentrating on paying attention to detail and because of that he has been helping us out. He makes the game easier because he can make so many tough shots and he can get his shot off anytime he wants. He is doing a good job trying to defend and do the other things and still be who he is, he's a scorer."

His strong and, most importantly, consistent performance throughout the season has given the organization confidence that Young can be a large part of this team in the future. When Ernie Grunfeld held his press conference to discuss the acquisition of Rashard Lewis in exchange for starting shooting guard Gilbert Arenas, Grunfeld talked about one of the reasons behind the move: to give Young increased playing time.

“Nick Young is going to get extended minutes now,” Grunfeld says. “He has had the opportunity to play and he’s played really well. He’s shown that he can take advantage of the time he’s gotten and now he can show us even more what he can do.”