- The Washington Times - Friday, March 27, 2009

Nick Young held the ball on the perimeter with a Chicago Bulls defender sprinting out to meet him. Anyone who has followed the streaky shooting guard and the Washington Wizards probably could assume one of two things happened next.

Either Young would take the low-percentage shot or he would put his head down and try to drive baseline for an acrobatic dunk but instead get called for charging.

This time, though, Young dodged the defender and found teammate Andray Blatche under the hoop for an easy layup.

A similar play happened Wednesday night against the Charlotte Bobcats. In the second quarter, Young got the ball and began his trademark circus dribbling display. Instead of trying to take his man one-on-one, he zipped the ball into the paint, setting up Antawn Jamison for a layup.

It’s taken 4 1/2 months, but it appears Young is starting to realize he can help his team by more than just scoring.

“We joke with him all the time about having blinders on like the horses. He sees that rim, and that’s it,” Jamison said. “But now I think he’s starting to understand in the past it was mostly one-on-one, but now if he comes out on pick-and-rolls or he tries to drive the ball, teams realize how talented he is on the offensive end and sometimes start sending two guys at him. So I just tell him, ‘Take your time, and sometimes you’ve got to understand when you see two guys on you, you can create easy opportunities for your teammates.’ And I think you’re starting to see that.”

Young averages 10.9 points a game, but his sophomore campaign has been marked by ups and downs, causing him to be one of the most scrutinized members of an injury-riddled team that relies on its young players.

Playing with consistency and a high basketball IQ has proved challenging for Young, and dependability hasn’t been one of his traits.

He fell into a pattern of stringing together a run of double-digit scoring outings followed by poor shooting performances. Then would come another three- or four-game run of promise, only to be followed by a slump.

But after averaging just seven points on 38 percent shooting in the first five games of March, Young seems to be on an extended upswing. He has scored in double figures in each of the last nine contests while averaging 15.7 points and shooting 46 percent.

It’s Young’s most consistent stretch of the season. It could be brushed off as just another mirage, but there are signs - a block on a Boris Diaw putback in the final two minutes Wednesday, three steals last week against Utah and five rebounds the week before against Orlando - that are cause for encouragement.

“For so long, he was worried that if he didn’t score, he’d get taken out of games. But now he’s learning that he can help in other ways,” Wizards interim coach Ed Tapscott said. “We worked on making the proper play. … Often coming out of the huddle I’ll say, ‘Make a play,’ which is different from take a shot. If a shot is the best play, then by all means, take a shot. If a good pass to an open teammate is the better play, then make that play. And I think Nick has really tried to focus on that to expand his game.”

Young said he’s starting to relax - partly because he’s getting more playing time with the Wizards down to just eight healthy players - and doesn’t feel the need to force shots as much.

“At first, I was just worried coming in, ‘Am I going to play well?’ just trying to get my shot off,” Young said. “But now, knowing I’m going to be out there longer, I don’t have to put as much pressure on myself by just scoring. I’m trying to do a little bit of everything.”

Altering his pregame routine and playing teammates Gilbert Arenas and Dominic McGuire one-on-one also has helped Young sharpen his focus.

He still has significant growing to do, as indicated by a 30-second first-half span Wednesday in which Young threw down a reverse dunk and seconds later gave Diaw an open drive to the basket.

But in a season lacking positive developments, Young’s strides as of late are more than welcome.