During the first two weeks of the preseason, Washington Wizards guard Nick Young found two things particularly painful, and it was almost to the point he didn’t know which was worse.
After concluding training camp with a strong performance in an intrasquad scrimmage Oct. 3, Young experienced soreness in his left knee the next day. The pain didn’t go away the following day, and Young found himself sidelined for 13 days.
After having his knee evaluated, Young learned the injury wasn’t gravely serious but rather caused by wear and tear. And while it doesn’t require surgery yet, he may need it after the season. For the time, rest was the best course of action.
So while the Wizards made NBA promotional appearances and played two preseason games - both ugly defeats - in Berlin and Barcelona last week, the second-year guard from Southern Cal only could watch helplessly from his couch - all the way across the Atlantic.
“Oh, man,” the 6-foot-6 Young said, trying to sum up the agony of inactivity. “I ain’t never really been hurt in my career, so just missing the trip, not being with my teammates and seeing it from here, it was real hard.”
The Wizards, already without the injured Gilbert Arenas and Brendan Haywood, lost to the Hornets by scores of 96-80 and 102-80.
“It looked like they needed a little bit of scoring out there,” Young said. “And that’s right where I fit in.”
When the Wizards returned from overseas, resuming practice at Verizon Center on Sunday, Young took the court with his teammates for limited work. He felt good afterward and practiced the following day. Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said Young looked better but added that the team would have to see how he recovered the next morning.
On Tuesday, Young fully unleashed himself and impressed his coaches.
“He practiced all three days, and he was really awesome,” Jordan said after the session. “He was probably the best player in practice.”
Then on Wednesday, Young made his preseason debut in fine fashion, recording a team-high 15 points on 7-for-8 shooting, four rebounds and a steal in 18 minutes. Young made his first five shots and even turned in a highlight-worthy dunk on San Antonio’s 6-10 center Fabricio Oberto.
“I had to dunk [tonight] to let the coaches know I’m back, get the confidence in my knee, let them know I’m 100 percent. Show them I’m good,” Young told reporters after the game.
“I felt good out there. I got it going a little bit. I was kind of nervous going out there in the beginning. I haven’t played in a while. It felt good. It felt right.”
Young said he is looking forward to proving himself again Friday when the Wizards conclude the preseason in Columbus, Ohio, against the Cleveland Cavaliers.
If his small sampling of work is any indication, Young - who as a rookie averaged 7.5 points in 75 games - appears ready to take the next step Wizards management had anticipated and help fill two key voids.
With Arenas out for at least the first month of the season recovering from knee surgery, the Wizards will need an additional scorer. And after last year’s top scoring option off the bench, Roger Mason Jr., departed as a free agent over the summer, Young’s maturity and increased production are even more crucial to the team’s success.
“With [Arenas] out, you figure if we can get 12 to 14 points a night from Andray [Blatche] and another 10 to 12 from Nick, you’d think we’d be all right,” said team captain Antawn Jamison, who along with the Wizards’ coaching staff has challenged Young to take a more serious approach to his game this season.
And based on his preparation in practice - and Wednesday’s performance - Young appears willing and able to do his part.