Wizards’ Nick Young alters his appearance but not his ability to score


“I have something to prove. I’m not going to take the joy away from me, because that’s how I am. But I’m going to try to tone it down,” Nick Young said of changing some of his ways this season. (Nick Wass/Associated Press)
December 29, 2011

Nick Young showed up for the Washington Wizards’ season opener on Monday with a different look. Much to the chagrin of his mother, he trimmed his unruly, lockout-inspired mane to a more manageable mini-Afro.

He also ditched his trademark skinny jeans and plaid shirt for a tailored suit, tie and dress loafers — a look he said would probably become more of the norm in his fifth season.

“Most of the time, most of the time. I got a couple of suits for y’all,” Young said with a grin.

Young doesn’t know for sure, but has a feeling that his reputation for flaunting the silly may have contributed to his inability to get the kind of long-term contract that he desired in free agency. He eventually had to settle for the one-year, $3.7 million qualifying offer, return to the Wizards and hit the market as an unrestricted free agent next summer.

He also understands that changing perceptions can begin with a new, more professional-looking appearance — though he doesn’t believe there is any problem with having fun or eating a spoonful of cinnamon on YouTube from time to time.

“To me, it’s harmless, but they see otherwise,” Young said. “I have something to prove. I’m not going to take the joy away from me, because that’s how I am. But I’m going to try to tone it down.”

Young, however, hasn’t toned down his effect on his team. Through the first two games he’s been the team’s best scorer and its most efficient player, scoring 37 points of the Wizards’ 167 points this season in just 50 minutes off the bench.

Despite missing all of training camp and showing up the day before the preseason finale, Young hasn’t had any trouble picking up where he left off last season, when he led the Wizards in scoring at 17.4 points per game. He has led the team in scoring in losses to New Jersey and Atlanta.

“We was all happy to have him back, because we know he’s instant offense for us,” John Wall said. “We love the things he’s doing for us.”

Young started 40 games last season but said he has no problem backing up Jordan Crawford as Coach Flip Saunders and his staff make adjustments based on his stamina and the uncertainty that came as a result of his contract situation.

“I’m cool where I’m at, coming off the bench, being that spark,” Young said. “I’m trying to adjust to everything. Got a couple of new things that I’ve got to pick up. I’m just going out there and playing hard. That’s the most I can do right now.”

Saunders wants to bring him along slowly since Young still has what he calls “training camp legs” and has intimated that Young could eventually supplant Crawford as the starting shooting guard once he regains his conditioning.

“He’s still not in great shape,” Saunders said of Young. “We don’t want to do anything and all of sudden he has some kind of major injury because we’ve pushed him too hard.”

Young provided a scare in the season opener, when he grabbed a rebound and teammate Andray Blatche fell on Young’s left foot after getting tangled with Nets forward Kris Humphries. Young returned to end a nearly six minute scoring drought with a jump shot that has turned out to be the last lead the Wizards have held so far this season.

He certainly didn’t appear to have any problems with his foot or rust in Atlanta, where he scored 14 of his game-high 21 points — and converted his first career four-point play — during a 16-9 run that brought the Wizards within three points.

Afterward, Young joked with Wall that he would to try to eclipse Portland guard Jamal Crawford’s record of 24 four-point plays. “You got a long way to go,” Wall said.

“I’m trying to get in the record book,” Young said with a grin. “Everybody can’t be the number one pick.”

Saunders was more impressed with another four from Young in Atlanta, as in his four assists, which ranked second on the team behind Wall and was the most Young had recorded in 26 games, dating from Jan. 19. Young had just three games with at least four assists last season.

Young is expecting to have a sizeable cheering section for Friday’s game against the Bucks at Bradley Center and had no problem collecting extra tickets from his teammates. His parents, Charles and Mae, both moved from Milwaukee to Los Angeles, where Young was born, raised and developed a unique style, which might undergo some minor alterations this season.

“I’m trying to set the tone for where I want to be, my future and everything,” Young said. “I realize how serious they take everything in the league. The cinnamon thing and everything I really do. I’m not trying to have those labels.”

Wizards note: Maurice Evans will get an MRI exam when the Wizards return home from Milwaukee. Evans re-signed with the Wizards before their preseason opener but has been unable to practice the past week after developing pain and swelling in his surgically repaired right knee.

Michael Lee is the national basketball writer for The Washington Post.
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