Nick Young steps up - on offense and defense

Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 19, 2010; 1:38 AM

There was hardly any carryover from the Washington Wizards' stellar performance in a win against the Toronto Raptors to their debacle in Boston the next night - save for Nick Young, who continued to knock down pull-up jumpers and matched his season-high with 20 points on consecutive nights.

With No. 1 overall pick John Wall sidelined with a sprained left foot, Coach Flip Saunders has called on Young to come off the bench and come through with one of those streaky offensive runs that Young has managed to carve out over the course of each season he's been in the league.

But what has kept Young on the floor of late has been his ability to strip the ball from Raptors center David Andersen and glide down the court for a slam dunk, or even simply work around a screen from Celtics reserve center Semih Erden to stay attached to Nate Robinson.

"It's not just his offense. Defensively, he's been in the top three on our team, every time he plays, in contested shots. His defense on the ball has really picked up and he's been very solid for us," Saunders said. "I've never questioned - I don't think anybody has ever questioned - his ability to score. I think right now, he's in a - knock on wood - comfort level scoring-wise, being able to make shots. Hopefully, he'll be able to keep doing that."

Young has been shooting the ball well in his past four games, connecting on 56.5 percent of his shots (26 for 46) and scoring 60 points combined. He made 9 of 15 shots in the Wizards' 114-83 loss against Boston and helped his team avoid setting new season lows in points and field goal percentage.

He also helped welcome back Celtics guard Delonte West, who made his season debut after missing the first 10 games serving a suspension for a gun possession charge. West joked that he became emotional when he entered the game late in the first quarter and fans at TD Garden gave him a nice ovation. "I almost had a tear in my eye," West said. "Nick Young gave me like four buckets in a row and those tears dried up real fast. I remembered I'm back in the NBA."

A fourth-year shooting guard, Young will be a restricted free agent after this season and is in a difficult situation with Wall, Gilbert Arenas and Kirk Hinrich hogging most of the playing time in the backcourt, one of the few strengths of the Wizards' roster. But Young said he is determined to stick around in this league, while changing perceptions about him that he is one-dimensional.

"I'm just trying to do it all out there on the court," said Young, who is averaging 9.4 points this season. "Not trying to have no reason for them to say, 'Nick don't do this. Nick don't do that.' Because I've been hearing that since I've been in the league. I'm just being aggressive and knowing that I've got to have confidence in myself."

Young said he has made a concerted effort to help the league's 29th-best rebounding team on the glass. He had a combined 11 rebounds against Chicago and Toronto. "I played the forward at USC, so I'm used to getting rebounds," he said. "I kind of lost track of that coming into the league. I'm learning more on how to get rebounds and help the big men out."

Young only had one rebound against the Celtics, but that was largely because they didn't miss too many shots. In an inept team defensive performance, the Wizards allowed the Celtics to become just the 44th team in the past 24 years to shoot higher than 65 percent from the floor for an entire game.

It was the first time over that span that the Washington franchise had been the victim of such an offensive onslaught. "We've got to fight harder than we did," Young said. The Celtics "are a championship-caliber team, an all-star team, so obviously, they know how to win. We laid an egg a little bit."

Wall said after the Celtics game that his foot felt "better" and will be a game-time decision when the Wizards (3-7) host the Memphis Grizzlies on Friday. So Young could see a decline in minutes from the 59 that he received in the past two games. The Wizards are 2-1 this season when Young plays at least 23 minutes. "In order to be consistent, you've got to have consistent minutes," Young said. "I've been doing this for a long time. I'm just getting my confidence right. I've been doing this in practice and [Saunders has] been telling me to play my game."

Young continues to be a jokester off the court, as he playfully smiled and rubbed his chin while watching himself do a live interview on television in the locker room. He has also made it a goal to grow out his Afro has high as it can go. But Young said he has been much more focused on the court. "I'm just tired, because I know how hard I work," Young said. "You keep hearing that, you've got to work harder when you already know they label you as something. I've been working hard and I'm glad it's starting to show. I'm just going to continue to do what I do."

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