The Curious Case of Nick Young's Inability To Pass | Wizards Blog Truth About

The Curious Case of Nick Young’s Inability To Pass

Updated: December 27, 2010

Nick Young is one of the most unique players the NBA has ever seen. Now in his fourth season, his numbers improved from his rookie to his sophomore year, then took a dip across the board last season, his third. Now, this season brings dramatic improvement from any Nick Young we’ve ever seen.

He’s found confidence to go along with his offensive talent, has vastly improved his jump shooting and does the other little things he needs to do to keep himself on the court. His stats, thus far this season, certainly would have kept him in the Sixth Man of the Year conversation, had it not been for the trade of his friend Gilbert Arenas to Orlando, thrusting Young into Flip Saunders’ starting lineup (assuming he starts more than he comes off the bench — right now, out of 28 Wizards games, Young has appeared in 27 and started in four).

But none of this exactly makes Young unique. What makes him unique is that he could be one of the worst passing guards the league has ever seen. Ever.

Let’s start by plugging some of Young’s stats this season in the historical database at This season, Young is averaging 25.8 minutes per game, 20.4 points per 36 minutes and 0.9 assists per 36. His per game averages are 14.6 points and 0.6 assists.

First, the players who have averaged at least 25 minutes per game, over 20 points per 36 and less than one assist per 36 for an entire season. And I realize that this is a limited judgement of Young’s passing ability, especially in a sense that I’m predicating it on how much he’s able to score, but I do feel that part of the assessment is how much offense one creates for themselves versus for others. Also, there’s probably only a handful of non-NBA/team employees who have watched as much or more of Young’s game over his NBA career than I have. Essentially, let’s be real, not only does Young not pass, he’s bad at passing, and I’m simply illustrating how bad with numbers.

Now, the returns from Basketball-Reference: six players and no other guard aside from Young: Yao Ming, Alonzo Mourning, Chris Gatling, Bailey Howell, Eddy Curry and Mike Mitchell are their names. For fairness sake, I ran the per game numbers through BBR — over 25 minutes per game, over 14 points per game and less than 0.75 assists per game — and the return was even fewer players. The five others aside from Young were Chris Gatling (same season as before), Moses Malone, Gheorghe Muresan, Eddy Curry (same season) and Armen Gilliam.

As you can see, these are some historical, non-assisting numbers. Now let’s get more historical.

Through last night’s game versus the Spurs, Young has played 5,113 career minutes. He has accumulated 2,487 points and 223 assists. Plug the career requirements for those who mostly played guard into Basketball-Reference — at least 5,000 career minutes, more than 2,400 points scored and less than 250 assists and you get two players ever: Nick Young and Martell Webster.

Webster has mostly been more of a specialty player, a long-distance shooter. And Young is similarly developing into a niche-type player. He’s being used as a scorer, not a play-maker. Young does have that ability to put the ball on the floor, he’s just never used it effectively for his team.

In his assessment of the Spurs game, the Washington Post’s Michael Lee wrote: “Nick Young failed to score at least 20 points for the first time in six games, as he was limited to just 10 points on 5-of-19 shooting. It was the first time in weeks that Young had looked so hesitant and indecisive.”

Young may have had 22 points in the Wizards’ 87-80 loss to the Chicago Bulls on December 22, but it wasn’t the type of 20-plus points that Flip Saunders desires.

“Even Nick, Nick’s been so effective, we talk about him catching and shooting. Tonight, he’s trying to do a lot off the dribble,” Saunders said after the Chicago game. “When you start doing that, that’s more individualistic than it is team-wise. And it’s easier for good defensive teams — that’s what [the Bulls] are, they’re second in the league in FG% — to lock into you. The referees were letting them grab, hold and do those things, and so you don’t put the ball on the floor and try to beat guy soff the dribble doing that. You beat them with the pass.”

Beat them with the pass, a dimension that the one-dimensional Young can’t do right now. He followed up that performance against the Bulls with a 5-19 effort against the Spurs that was heavily inspired by the disturbing play of Manu Ginobili.

After that Bulls game, I asked Saunders about Young’s passing/assist ability.

“It’s probably situations as far as what he puts in. You know, everyone has, as far as a role. He’s going to learn, you know … right now he’s our best scorer, the guy’s shooting 54% from the field. You’d rather him shooting than most other guys,” the coach said.

“Will he evolve as far as having more assists? Right now, he’s a scorer with a lot of tunnel vision,” Saunders continued. “And sometimes scorers and shooters are like that, especially early. We’re trying to limit his decision-making process and let him be aggressive as far as coming off screens.”

As suspected, Saunders is maximizing Young’s current potential while limiting his decision-making. And well, the coach’s methods have worked. I still recall Saunders speaking about how he loved to teach not long after he was hired. No other Wizards player has blossomed as much as Young has under Saunders.

Changes come slow and changes come drastically. Just yesterday, it seems, I was thinking Young could be out of the league soon … and I know that sentiment wasn’t unique to me. Now, Young is a piece for rebuilding. He’s a threat. His seemingly rapid, painstaking development over the previous three years has meaning. His growth, thanks to his own hard work and that of his coach, now provides more promise than ever … promise that he’ll one day shed the tunnel vision, and the horse blinders, and become a complete player. Nick Young, historically horrendous passing for now be damned, is finally becoming an NBA man.

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Kyle Weidie
Founder / Editor / Reporter / Writer at TAI
Kyle founded TAI in 2007 and has been weaving in and out the world of Wizards ever since, ducking WittmanFaces, jumping over G-Wiz, and avoiding stints on the DNP-Conditioning list. He has covered the Washington pro basketball team as a member of the media since 2009. Kyle lives in D.C. with his wife, loves basketball, and has no pets.

  • Astounding. Textbook ‘black hole’ passer.

  • szr

    I wouldn’t mind him being a scorer in the Steve Kerr model. What I do mind is the sheer amount of ball-hoggery that he displays. I mean, on offense he keeps calling his own number, even in obvious passing situations. If Flip Sounders can beat that out of him, that’s great, but we will see.

    Let me put it this way – I would rather Wall create. I would rather McGee take lots of shots. I would rather Nick Young learn to take about 6 shots a night, and hit 5 of them. And spend the rest of his time on the court learning how to play defense and rebounding. Right now he’s killing us on defense.

  • Yeah right

    that guy you said isn’t playing D shut down Dwayne Wade and kept Kobe and Luol Deng in check…

    He may have not been great with Ginobli…but that isn’t exactly an indictment…

    I suggest you go back and watch the actual games…

  • rjg9n

    Don’t be so quick to throw Nick’s skills out the window- yea we want Wall to create plays but Nick has the ability to finish those plays, and we’ve all seen what happens when McGee (or any of our frontcourt players for that matter- yes even Dray) decides to put it on the floor and tries to make a 1-on-1 play. Asking Nick to focus purely on defense and rebounding is like asking Javale to start focusing on picking up dimes… you want to utilize your player’s strengths, and Nick can clearly score the ball, and at a relatively efficient rate this season. And to his credit, his defense has been much improved, and it’s not the first time a player has gotten burned by Manu.

    Nick’s game has improved wonders from his previous seasons, and can develop into a legit starter in this league if he continues to improve one step at a time. Passing will come when as he continues to grow comfortable as a lead option in the offense.

  • CP7

    lmao, young is hilarious on and off the court. Very entertaining

  • Incandescent Rex

    To me Nick is a poor man’s Ben Gordon or a homeless man’s Jason Terry, depending on how you look at it. He’s a sixth man on a good team.

  • 20kMackitHack

    Why does he have to be like Gordon or Terry why not J.R Smith

  • Incandescent Rex

    Sure, I’d throw J.R. Smith into the mix too. JR’s actually a better comparison because he has Nick Young’s athleticism in addition to the shooting skills. He also has Nick’s inconsistency, tunnel vision on offense, and defensive lapses (though Nick seems to be improving on that lately). I’d say the same thing about JR Smith, on a playoff caliber team, he’d be a perfect sixth man.

  • jgmf17

    It’s not just that he can’t pass, but he doesn’t do ANY of the small things that a team needs to do to win (besides score). Last night against the Rockets was another great example. Sure, he had 18 points, but also a grand total of zero rebounds and zero assists. It’s as if he doesnt even try when the ball clangs off the rim–he’s avg. 2.1 rbounds per game this season, pretty not acceptable for a 6-7 guard who’s going to have a height advantage on pretty much anyone guarding him. Meanwhile, JohnW avgs about 3x the number of steal that Young gets…Young needs to become a lot more active and focus on the rest of the game if he actually wants to see some wins in the phone booth

  • szr

    jgmf17 basically sums up my concerns about Young. The Wizards are averaging 93.2 possessions per game. And right now, Nick Young is taking a bit under 12 shots per game, on average. His shooting percentage isn’t bad, but he’s not doing anything for the rest of the 81 possessions per game. So while he is playing a little more than 26 minutes per game, his actual contribution is pretty small.

    Compare that to Wall, who is averaging 36.4 minutes per game, shooting the ball 13.5 times per game, getting about 4 rebounds, 8 assists and 2 steals per game.

    The point is that Wall has a much greater impact on the game than Nick Young, even if Nick Young scores more. Wall is doing the kinds of things that help teams win by gaining possessions (steals and rebounds) and improving the offense (with assists).

    Having a guy who can shoot well isn’t a bad thing, but when that is pretty much his only contribution to the team, he’s best used coming off the bench, taking about 6 shots a night, and then letting someone who is more productive use about 13 of those 26 minutes a night.

  • john

    I couldn’t be more happy Nick is finally living up to his potential. Even when he was struggling Nick has always shown his willingness to be coached and put in the necessary time in the gym (size-wize Nick looks like hes put on 15 lbs of muscle since draft night…more than i can say for Blatche who looks like hes put on 30 lbs of fat). Nick’s proven he can learn and use what he’s learned on the court, the next step is passing and court awareness. Even though we are having yet another horrible season, guys like Wall, Young and Hinrich make the future look cautiously bright.

    Also, can someone please tell me why we keep letting Gee go, i swear, all that guy does is come in and play solid ball. I know we needed a PG after the arenas deal but how could Gee possibly be the guy to go…what has cartier done? what has Hamady done?