[Editor's Note: Rashad Mobley has reported on the Wizards with media credentials since the 2008-09 season for Hoops Addict. He occasionally contributes to Truth About It.net, providing excellent analysis and a different perspective from his up-close coverage of the team.]
Denver Nuggets guard J.R. Smith ended the third quarter, by missing consecutive 24-foot jumpers, and his numbers going into the fourth were anything but impressive. He had made one of his six shots, and he only had four points, as his team held a slim lead over the Washington Wizards.
Things certainly did not get any better when the fourth quarter initially started, because Smith picked up an offensive foul trying to run through Nick Young, and then a technical foul for a delay of game violation. Still, Nuggets coach George Karl never removed him from the game, and despite some momentary frustration, Smith stayed composed.
From the 11:33 mark of the fourth quarter (when Smith picked up the offensive foul) to the final buzzer, Smith shot 6-of-10, scored 13 points and led the Nuggets to a 97-87 victory over the Wizards. He shrugged off a poor shooting performance over three quarters, and decided that he could still play a major role in his team’s fate.
The whole time I was watching this last night, I was thinking, this is Nick Young’s blueprint for success.
After averaging 10 points in his second season and teasing Wizards fans with his potential, Young has regressed this year. He’s averaging just seven points a game, and he has missed numerous chances to gain a starting role in the Wizards lineup. He’ll play back to back good games, like he did against Atlanta and Houston earlier this month, and then he’ll have numerous games (specifically the last four) where he simply does not show up. The bad games usually follow the same pattern.
Young will come in the game, miss a few easy shots, put his head down, start slacking on defense, force a couple more shots, and then he’ll find himself right back on the bench next to Flip Saunders, all in a matter of five minutes. He may get a few more minutes of playing time in the third quarter, but by then his confidence is gone. He’ll get some garbage time in the last few minutes, walk slowly off the court at the end of the game, and disappear out of the locker room before the media arrives.
When Young is feeling good, he’ll hit his outside shots early, he’ll drive into the lane with purpose, play excellent defense the entire night, and he can be counted on to hit big clutch shots. The problem is, that version of Young has been seen very few times this season.
Young got an up close and personal look at J.R. Smith’s game last night–particularly in the fourth quarter when they guarded each other briefly. He saw a player who never lost confidence but more importantly never lost the confidence of his teammates and his coach.
This is not to say that Smith does not still have those games where he is abysmal, because last Friday against the New Orleans Hornets, he was just that. He shot 1 for 12 (0 for 6 from three point land) in and scored just four points in 25 minutes of play. But there are two key points to take note of, even in that horrid performance. One, the coaching staff was so confident that a breakthrough was on the way, they left Smith in the game down the stretch when the game was in the balance. Two, Smith kept right on shooting and attacking as if he just KNEW the next one would trigger a hot streak, even though it never happened for him.
If that were Young, his stat line would read 1 for 5 with two points and 10 minutes played. Smith delivers more often than he fails, and Young is the polar opposite. As a result, Wizards Coach Flip Saunders has little incentive to keep Young in the game once its clear that he does not have “it”. But if Young kept playing and shooting with Smith-like abandon, his confidence would stay high, more shots would fall, and Saunders (despite his notoriously quick trigger with substitition) would be forced to give Young a little more time to work out the kinks.
Over the summer, Saunders had Young look at tapes of Reggie Miller and Richard Hamilton so he could mimic their shooting-off-screens technique, and watch how they moved without the ball. Hamilton and Miller were established shooters who were guaranteed minutes, so their mind states were much different. J.R. Smith is a bench player whose job it is to provide energy (and occasionally drive the coach crazy). Perhaps Young should tell Saunders he has some new tapes to watch to get him back in the Palace of Good Play.