By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 7, 2007
When it comes to shooting a basketball, Washington Wizards rookie guard Nick Young isn't the bashful type. But if he does hesitate, a roster full of big brothers -- including one all-star -- is in place to tell him otherwise.
"I've got confidence, and then when I've got Caron Butler talking to me all day, telling me to go to work and play my game, that means a lot," said Young, who came off the bench to score 14 points on 5-of-7 shooting in Wednesday's 105-86 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers. "It means a lot when he has faith in you."
The faith has been coming from all corners of the organization. It began on draft night, when President Ernie Grunfeld all but held his breath as the first round unfolded, hoping Young, who is 6 feet 6, 200 pounds, would fall to the Wizards at the 16th slot.
A slick ballhandler and creative shot-maker who occasionally displayed eye-popping athleticism at Southern California, Young ranked second in the Pacific-10 Conference in scoring as a junior last season (17.6 points on 52.6 percent shooting) and left scouts drooling over his NBA potential during a series of pre-draft workouts.
Things fell into place for the Wizards as the draft played out. First, the Philadelphia 76ers somewhat surprisingly took Georgia Tech forward Thaddeus Young with the 12th pick. Then, a New Orleans Hornets team that was perceived to need a shooting guard instead drafted Kansas forward Julian Wright.
Once the Los Angeles Clippers took Florida State forward Al Thornton at No. 14 and the Detroit Pistons selected Eastern Washington shooting guard Rodney Stuckey at 15, Grunfeld jumped at the chance to take Young.
Grunfeld, whose public comments are typically guarded, could hardly contain his enthusiasm over landing Young.
"There are very few players in this league that can get their own shot and create not only for themselves but for their teammates," Grunfeld said at Young's introductory news conference. "Nick has the potential to do that."
The team's coaches and players began noticing that potential right away when Young joined the team for informal workouts following the draft and later during summer league.
So far this season, Young's uncanny knack for making shots and getting to the rim has been a revelation. He is averaging 7.6 points on 44.9 percent shooting, has made 9 of 22 three-point attempts and ranked eighth among all rookies in scoring entering last night's games.
In the last 10 games, as opportunities for Young have increased because of the absence of injured three-time all-star Gilbert Arenas, Young is averaging 10.6 points on 50 percent shooting and done it with a flair that has teammates touting him for the annual Rookie-Sophomore game and the Slam Dunk Contest during All-Star Weekend.
"Oh, he'll win the dunk contest," said Butler, who could make his second straight all-star game appearance. "I have no doubt about that. That boy can fly. If he does some of the things we've been seeing in practice, he'll win it."
Coach Eddie Jordan has been impressed with the way Young has adapted his talents to the NBA. After playing with some hesitancy and sloppiness in the early going, Young has become more assertive while keeping turnovers at an acceptable rate (he is averaging 1.2 per game) and he has made a concerted effort to become a better all-around defender.
"You don't anticipate anything from a rookie, but he is growing," Jordan said. "He is getting better. He is getting better with on-the-ball defense, he's getting better with off-the-ball defense. He's learning how to execute. We know he has a knack to score one-on-one but he's also showing a knack to make feeds to the post, to make the extra pass, to draw and kick. There's a special talent there."
Wizards Notes : The Phoenix Suns (15-4) play at Verizon Center tonight for the only time this season. The teams split a pair of meetings last season with both winning on the road.
The Wizards will need all of the scoring they can get against the Suns, who won, 136-123, at Toronto and have won three consecutive games overall.
"We're looking pretty good," Suns Coach Mike D'Antoni said after Wednesday's win. "That's 136 points pretty easy."