Nick Young, Getting Defensive Out Of The Box | Truth About It.net

Nick Young, Getting Defensive Out Of The Box

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Updated: January 6, 2010

After Saturday’s Spurs game, reader Joe Sill emailed me some praise about Nick Young. And with perfect timing, Young put together a very solid 21 point effort on 9-14 FGs last night in a win against the 76ers, his plus-15 second best to that of Gilbert Arenas. Young came off the bench in the first half, started the second half in place of Andray Blatche, and overall did some nice things defensively.

Below is what Joe wrote about Nick and emailed to me this past Sunday.


Coaches’ take on Nick Young’s excellent plus/minus

by Joe Sill

I would guess that the coaches are eager to talk about anything other than the Arenas guns story right now, so here’s a suggestion. I would like to know whether they’re aware that Nick Young has looked very good from a plus/minus perspective both last year and this year. I suspect they’re not even aware of this. If they are, I’d be interested to know why that fact doesn’t make them inclined to play him more.

  • Young and Mike Miller are the only guys who’ve played significant minutes and have a positive plus/minus on the season.
  • Miller is currently at plus-27 and Young is at plus-17 [via NBA.com]

If you were skeptical, you might think that that’s a fluke, but Young also looked like the best player on the team (among those who played real minutes) from a plus/minus perspective last year.

  • The most meaningful number is +/- per minute played, and Young was at -0.075 last year, which was far better than anybody else on the team except for Songaila, who was close behind at -0.082.

I know this may seem somewhat surprising, but the statistical evidence suggests that Young plays good defense. He had one of the best on/off differential in the league in terms of points per possession allowed last year:

  • Of those who logged at least 1,000 minutes, Nick ranked 9th in the NBA with a Diff. of -6.8 [via NBA.com]

It’s a similar story this year. The Wizards are only giving up 1.07 points per possession with Young on the floor this year. That’s lower than anyone else who has played significant minutes this year, with the possible exception of Oberto, if you consider his minutes significant. (see 82games.com)

I realize that Young still makes a lot of mental mistakes. However, based on my observation, he does a good job of closing out hard on spot up shooters and getting a hand really high up in the air, in the shooter’s face, in a way that’s actually distracting and causes misses. He’s always had the physical skills to do this, given his tremendous standing vertical leap and long arms, so it shouldn’t be that surprising that he’s effective in this regard when he puts in an effort. It also seems to me that if he gets isolated versus a talented scorer that he does a pretty good job of staying in front of him.

Many of the more sophisticated and successful teams, like Dallas, Houston and Denver, take plus/minus very seriously. Pat Riley has been tracking plus/minus for 30 years. I can send you links that demonstrate this if you want. In any case, I think the plus/minus numbers are really worth looking at.

My impression is that Young is being handicapped by a perception of him that formed early on. This perception (that he doesn’t play defense, turns it over a lot, and generally doesn’t do the little things that help you win) was probably accurate his rookie year but I don’t think it’s accurate any more. I’m sure he still makes more mental mistakes than some other guys, but the statistical evidence strongly suggests that this is outweighed by the things he does right. Note also that he has a very low turnover rate (1.3 per 36 minutes – via Basketball-Reference.com).


Many thanks to Joe for the excellent contribution. Last year, I observed improved contesting of shots from Nick. This year, he is doing a much better job at moving his feet. If Young continues to work hard with Flip Saunders, Sam Cassell and the rest of the coaching staff, who knows how solid of an NBA player he could be.

It also could be something about the Sixers. In three games against Philly this season, Young is averaging 18 points on 55% from the field and 54.5% from three in 27.7 minutes per.

I’ll leave you with this video from the first time Young played the Sixers this year, where he scored 20 points in a start and helped the Wizards win 108-107 … you know, the game where Nick was doing his ‘dust off’ move that Flip Saunders didn’t really like.


  • Anthony

    Hollinger has been saying all year, he was surprised Washington was playing Deshawn Stevenson over Nick Young.

    No doubt he’s a talent. He’s also looks he’s not injury prone based on last season. I just question if he’ll succeed here.