Slumping Nick Young struggles to find a place with the new-look Washington Wizards

By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 9, 2010; D02

Nick Young is starting to feel left behind. A Halloween mask of Gilbert Arenas hangs in his locker room stall, a symbol of the friend and mentor who has been banished for the remainder of the season. His closest friend on the team, Dominic McGuire, is no longer sitting two stalls down after McGuire was traded to Sacramento.

And Andray Blatche and JaVale McGee -- who used to share spots near Young on the bench, hoping for more playing time -- have suddenly moved into prominent roles as starters. Young, however, continues to sit and ponder his place with the team as the Wizards prepare to host the Houston Rockets on Tuesday.

Coach Flip Saunders has praised Blatche and McGee for their "serious attitude," which was evident for most of the Wizards' 86-83 loss to the Boston Celtics on Sunday. The duo combined for 36 points, 10 rebounds and 6 blocked shots.

Young, on the other hand, has been unable to discover a role on the new-look Wizards. Even with the roster turnover, Josh Howard's season-ending knee surgery and the team being limited offensively, Young is slowly drifting into irrelevance as Saunders goes more with new arrival Quinton Ross as the first guard off the bench.

"He's struggled," Saunders said. "He's had opportunities. He hasn't had anything that's clicked."

Saunders has criticized Young for failing to influence games in ways that go beyond scoring. In his only notable performance since the all-star break, Young scored 12 points and played stellar defense against Denver point guard Chauncey Billups in the fourth quarter of the Wizards' surprising 107-97 win over the Nuggets on Feb. 19.

But in the other nine games, Young is averaging just 3.2 points and shooting 24 percent (10 of 41). He is averaging just 11.8 minutes since the all-star break, and been limited to three points or fewer six times.

"I'm thinking out there, trying to do the right thing and I ain't playing right," said Young, who was averaging 7.7 points and shooting 40.5 percent in 17.6 minutes per game before the all-star break. "It's been hard for me out there. My teammates are saying to me, 'You just got to play your game.' And that's what I'm going to start doing from now on. Start playing like Nick. This ain't working, apparently."

Young has tried several different approaches this season, hoping that his next move could be the one to spark a turnaround.

He's changed shoes, opting for several different color schemes and numbers with special meaning stitched along the side. And he's repeatedly changed hairstyles, going with a Mohawk, a mini-Afro, having his hometown "L.A." carved into the back of his head, to now, a closely shaved cut with a patch of hair on top. But the inconsistent looks have merely coincided with his erratic play in his third season.

Before the season, Young spoke of making a name for himself in the NBA, and possibly earning the starting shooting guard job. He spent the summer working out with Saunders and Sam Cassell, learning the nuances of the new system and how to score with limited extra dribbling. He has started 13 games, but he is putting up career lows in nearly every statistical category, including scoring (seven points) and field goal percentage (38.9 percent).

"It's hard," Young said. "We had such high hopes coming in and see how it's going, to see teammates leaving, losing games, don't know when you're playing, it's been a lot going on with me. I'm trying to stay in there, hang in there and keep going."

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