- The Washington Times - Friday, November 27, 2009

Nick Young worked harder than ever during the summer leading up to his third NBA season, so he never figured he would be the Mr. Irrelevant of the Washington Wizards’ roster.

After two erratic seasons, the shooting guard expected to earn a place as a key member in the rotation of new coach Flip Saunders or perhaps even a spot in the starting lineup.

Yet here he was. Sitting and watching. Watching and waiting, with slim prospects of a change.

Young couldn’t seem to remember that the Wizards needed him to do more than score - there is, after all, this thing called defense.

He was little better on the other end. Young sometimes forgot the offensive plays - even the ones specifically drawn up for him. He also needed to improve his mental toughness. If he missed his first shot, he became discouraged and never seemed to bounce back.

And so, true to his words in preseason, Saunders banished Young to the bench.

In the five games from Nov. 8 to 20, Young received three DNPs and logged a combined four scoreless minutes in the other two. On Saturday, Young found himself on the inactive list.

“I was very surprised. It was shocking. I wasn’t used to seeing DNPs and my first inactive,” said Young, who in all has received five DNPs and one inactive in the Wizards’ first 13 games of the season. “It kind of hurt.”

After getting over the initial disappointment, Young gave himself a pep talk.

“Just man up, really,” he told himself. “Go out there with that chip on your shoulder. Just believe, really. I still have confidence in my game if I play or not.”

Young finally got a chance Tuesday against the Philadelphia 76ers with starting shooting guard Mike Miller out three to six weeks with a strained right calf.

Saunders could have chosen veterans Randy Foye or DeShawn Stevenson but instead elected to not only play Young but also start him.

“[Teammates] said that’s the quickest jump from inactive to starting,” Young said with a laugh. “That’s crazy in the NBA.”

But Saunders said that, in the four practices leading up to Tuesday’s game, Young had been the best player on the court. The hope was that it would carry over into the game. It did.

Young scored 20 points and posted four rebounds and two assists in 32 minutes. A 13-point third quarter went a long way to helping the Wizards come back from a 46-45 halftime deficit and enter the fourth quarter up 85-75.

“He wears his emotions on his sleeve,” forward Caron Butler said. “And for him to go out there and compete the way he did on both ends of the floor… that was special.”

Young made routine shots and tough shots alike. After each, he made a flicking motion across his chest as if brushing dust off his jersey.

“That was my thing,” Young said Wednesday. “When I came into [shootaround on Tuesday], they put me on the black team and they was talking about knocking some of that dust off me, so some of the players were dusting me off a little bit.”

The post-shot gesture didn’t impress Saunders, but Young’s surprising play on the defensive end did. Young matched up with Andre Iguodala - who leads the Sixers in scoring with 18.2 points a game - and made him work. Young limited Iguodala to 12 points on 2-for-10 shooting.

“It’s probably not many times that anyone’s said, ‘We couldn’t take Nick out because of the good job he was doing defensively,’ ” Saunders said. “But that’s one of the reasons. His defense on Iguodala, he did a very, very good job. … To his credit he played well offensively as well, made some good shots.”

Now, the key is to build on that performance.

“What you do is you hope he understands why he was there - and get rid of him flicking his shirt and everything else when he makes a shot, because that’s not why you make shots,” Saunders said. “But you hope he understands what he did. Preparation a lot of times will bring you success. A lack of preparation guarantees a lack of success. He’s prepared because he’s been forgotten about a little bit. Hopefully, he sticks in there and works hard.”

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