Wizards’ Young making most of opportunity

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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.

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