Nick Young finished 15th in voting for most improved player last week -- garnering one second and two third place votes -- which was somewhat disappointing since he considered himself among the top candidates after replacing Gilbert Arenas at shooting guard and emerging as the go-to-guy for the Wizards. But there is no need to hang his head, especially when all Kevin Love got for his lopsided victory was a shiny trophy, while Young turned his breakout season into an invite to the White House Easter Egg Roll, where he got to chat with President Obama.
Young averaged a career-best 17.4 points -- improving his scoring average by 8.8 points from last season -- but isn’t sure if he will continue to play in Washington beyond this season, as he enters restricted free agency with an unsettled collective bargaining situation. “It will be great, but you never know. I done seen a lot, being a Wizard. I’m going to keep my options open and hope for the best,” Young said, when asked about his future with the team following his exit interviews. “The Wizards drafted me, so it’s only right that I’d come back.”
When asked if he would be willing to offer a hometown discount in order to stay in Washington, Young replied, “My mama told me, never leave nothing on the table.”
He said two weeks ago that if he didn’t return, he would miss play fighting with Andray Blatche, who had once formed a tight-knit trio with Young and Dominic McGuire. But Young has already seen McGuire and Arenas traded, so he knows that anything is possible as it relates to him. “I’m unemployed right now,” Young said. “It’s tough, but I felt I put myself in a good position where hopefully I get in a great position where I can be great at.”
After his experiences in his first four seasons, Young feels that he has been prepared for anything. “I’ve seen the ups and downs here,” he said. “It’s been tough. It’s been a struggle. First year was a good year, from then on changes, trades, coaching changes.”
Young had to wait a while for his opportunity in Washington. He was drafted to a playoff team in 2007 and watched it fall off a cliff over the past three seasons. Eddie Jordan gave Young some decent minutes his rookie season, but Ed Tapscott made Young earn every minute he got in his second season. Flip Saunders only used Young out of necessity last season, but he decided to give him a chance after he seeing Young outplay Arenas during the preseason.
Saunders and Young bumped heads several times last season, but Saunders said his tough love eventually helped Young tap into his potential as a scorer this season. “I’ve been around a lot of great players, a lot of guys that have been all-stars, and I saw in him some similarities with some of the guys I had, whether it was [Latrell] Sprewell or Rip Hamilton,” Saunders said near the end of the season. “I wanted him to be a guy that became a more fundamental player at times and a more efficient player. And Nick realized I wasn’t going to veer away. I don’t want him to say in five years, if coach would’ve been there on me about this, I would’ve been better. I think he understood and he matured.”
Young credited Saunders for helping bring out the best in him. “Once I really got into it, it’s a great offense, it’s something for the guards to grow in,” he said. “Points went up. Every day, I was just going hard and he let me play my game when I was on the court and he was still there to coach me when I messed up, a little bit. We just been around each other now. I think I did great.”
But no matter how much he played, Young always seemed to deliver identical production. When his numbers are stretched out per-36 minutes, he rebounds the same, gets as many assists. With the exception of last season, when he shot a career-low 41.8 percent, Young is generally around 44 percent each season.
The biggest difference in Young this season, though, was his confidence level. It rarely oscillated, and never let a few missed jumpers keep him from staying in the game. That’s possibly because he knew that his teammates were going to keep looking for him, and Saunders was going to let him play through his struggles -- partly, because there were limited options behind him. “Nick is the type of guy, he knows if a guys chasing him for playing time, sometimes he doesn’t feel as comfortable,” Saunders said about Young late in the season. “When Gilbert left, he got a comfort level, so he bought into everything as far as a team concept.”
But two factors greatly affected his value at the end of the season. For one, he was injured, with the increased minutes wearing him down and leading to a left knee injury that caused him to miss 16 of the final 22 games. “It’s tough, especially my first time playing that many minutes. It’s a lot of wear and tear. You hit the wall faster,” he said. “This year I played 30 something minutes. It was tough for me. I’m unemployed right now. It’s tough, but I felt I put myself in a good position where hopefully I get in a great position where I can be great at.”
And two, Jordan Crawford filled in admirably for him and did a few things better (such as passing, making plays for others and rebounding). In his end-of-year news conference, President Ernie Grunfeld reiterated earlier comments that Crawford’s play wouldn’t affect how the Wizards deal with Young in free agency. He added, “Let’s give Nick credit for the kind of things he did during the season.”
Young said that he believes that he and Crawford can share the floor if he returned. “Oh yeah, it would be a great offensive threat, you wouldn’t know who to guard out there.”
This summer, Young said he plans on cutting his Afro and possibly testing his talents in the entertainment industry, especially if the lockout lasts long. “I’m going to try to do some acting and get on the Hollywood scene. I’m going to have a little blog. Do all kind of stuff.”
What kind of movies does he expect to be in?
“All kind of things. All kind of stuff,” Young said with a laugh. “I might have a sex tape.”