Monday November 29, 2010 2:56 p.m.
By Frank Hanrahan
This was to be a make-or-break season for Wizards swingman Nick Young, and he knew it. Heading into his fourth year, Young was very aware that if he was going to stick with the Wizards, or even stay in the league, he had to show marked improvement in his game. So far this year, Young is not only showing he belongs but he might be ready to take that next step to be recognized as one of the better shooters off the bench in the NBA.
Five games of 20-plus points off the bench this season, including the red-hot 21-point effort in that tough 100-99 loss to Orlando Saturday, Young is looking like a completely different player and it boils down to one simple thing: confidence.
"I'm just going out there with confidence. My teammates believe in me, my coaches believe in me, and I believe in me more than anything," Young said after the Magic game, which he singlehandedly kept the Wizards in with 14 fourth-quarter points. "I felt like I was in the zone and that I could hit every shot."
Confidence can be a huge lift when a player hits a game winner like Young did against Philadelphia last week. Down by two points late, Young came off a baseline screen and without hesitation drained a three-pointer that provided the Wizards with the win. Young carried that big shot over to being one of the few bright spots in the blowout loss at Atlanta on Thanksgiving night with 20 points. For the season, Young is averaging a carer-high 11.8 points off the bench.
"Nick has been one of our most consistent players this year," Wizards coach Flip Saunders said. "He gets tired at times so you try to limit his minutes along those lines, but we put him in with the idea that he's going to play anywhere from 22-30 minutes and he plays hard and he's done a pretty good job."
When a player is feeling it like Young has been, teammates recognize it and they get the man with the hot hand the ball. "He's shown he's capable of doing that. If he makes one, he thinks he's on fire, that's just the kind of mentality he has," Wizards' guard Kirk Hinrich said.
Shooting was always Young's strength but in his first three seasons he was dogged by an inconsistent stroke. When the shot wasn't falling there wasn't much else Young could do, so he was often relegated to the bench even after getting some spot starts along the way. Young has shown improvements in areas in which Saunders wanted him to improve -- namely, his defense and rebounding. But let's be honest; his minutes will be based on how well he is shooting the ball.
Gilbert Arenas, who for now has returned as the go-to guy offensively with John Wall out due to injury, recognizes the importance of another option on offense in Young. "For us to be good, he has to step up," Arenas said.
So far this season Young has stepped up and then some.