By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 27, 2009
Nick Young doesn't have a nervous tic or an obsessive-compulsive disorder that makes him overly sensitive about getting his uniform dirty. So Coach Flip Saunders found it confusing and a bit annoying to see Young brush his fingers across his chest, as if he were cleaning himself, after each made basket on Tuesday.
"He has to get rid of that flick of the shirt when he makes shots," Saunders said after Young scored a season-high 20 points in the Washington Wizards' 108-107 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers.
But Young later explained that the gesture wasn't meant to show up his opponent and won't become some signature celebratory move. Young, who has mostly kept a clean jersey for the wrong reasons this season, merely was dusting himself off after he went from being seldom-used to the inactive list, for the first time in his career, in the Wizards' previous game against San Antonio on Saturday.
"They finally took me out the box," said Young, who played a season-high 32 minutes against the 76ers after getting a total of four minutes in the previous six games. "Knocking some of that rust off felt so good."
The Wizards needed Young to perform at a high level with starters Mike Miller (strained right calf) and Caron Butler (sore right ankle) out with injuries. And they will need him to be more than a one-game flash with Miller out for the next three to six weeks and Butler a game-time decision on Friday in Miami, where the Wizards will play their second game since the death of longtime owner Abe Pollin.
Young, a third-year guard, was hoping that he would have a breakthrough campaign this season. He spent the summer taking some of the herky-jerky, pre-shot theatrics out of his game and worked out with Saunders and Wizards assistant Sam Cassell in California to become a catch-and-shoot player. After a stellar training camp, Young earned a start in the preseason opener but moonwalked further out of Saunders's rotation as he struggled to grasp his coach's offensive and defensive schemes.
The only player to appear in all 82 games last season, when he averaged a career-high 10.9 points, Young was listed on the box score as "did not play -- coach's decision" for the season opener in Dallas and scored just 12 points in seven games this season. But even though he had fallen out Saunders's rotation, Young never expected to find himself on the inactive list.
"I was very surprised. It was shocking," he said. "I wasn't used to seeing DNPs and my first inactive, it kind of hurt. I still have confidence in my game, if I play or not. But it's a long season, I knew my time was going to come, really. I was just waiting for it. They said that's the quickest jump, from inactive to starting. That's crazy in the NBA."
Gilbert Arenas made it a point to look for Young early and often against the 76ers, especially after Young buried his first three-point attempt of the game.
"You know, Nick is one of those players, you've got to keep encouraging him, because one bad miss and he thinks he took a bad shot, he'll shut down," Arenas said. "But [Tuesday], I just said 'Hey, keep shooting, just keep shooting, play like you're at USC.' "
Saunders was pleased that Young delivered when given an opportunity, especially after Young had failed to come through in past situations. When Butler was hurt in Atlanta in the second game of the season, Saunders started Young in the second half and he missed two bad jumpers, finishing 0 for 8 from the floor. And the last time the Wizards were in Miami, Saunders drew up a play for Young, who got confused; the possession ended with him shooting an air-ball three-pointer as the shot clock expired.
But Saunders said he couldn't take Young out against the 76ers because of his relentless defense against Andre Iguodala, who made only 2 of 10 shots. Young also made a clever play when he tracked down a loose ball and called timeout before falling out of bounds. "He had good mental alertness. Did some positive things," Saunders said. "Probably not many times that anyone said we couldn't take out because he did a good job defensively. He did a very, very good job.
"Sometimes you go through a situation where you don't play a while then, all of a sudden, you're inactive, you start thinking: 'I got a choice. I can change myself or go along with the motions.' It's a credit to him that he was able to stick in there and work hard and didn't fold," Saunders said. "You hope that he understands what he did. Preparation a lot of times will lead to success. Lack of preparation will guarantee lack of success. He's prepared based on being forgotten about a little bit."
Young said his goal is stay in Saunders's rotation when Butler and Miller return to action. After the team left San Antonio, Young said he told himself, "Man up. It motivated me a little bit, to keep going. [Not playing] hurts, you know."