Rarely is Nick Young seen without a smile. Since the Washington Wizards drafted him in 2007, the guard has established himself as one of their most easygoing players and a clown in the locker room.
The Wizards can be down 20 points when Young checks into a game - and the smile’s there. He can be on his way back to the bench, yanked after missing a pair of ill-advised shots - and the smile’s there.
Young maintained a breezy persona during the Wizards’ 19-63 season. Although he improved statistically - boosting his scoring average from 7.5 points as a rookie to 10.9 - he was wildly erratic on both ends of the floor. He didn’t know enough of the offense to play within the framework of the system, and a rocky start often derailed him mentally.
During the season, co-captains Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler called for Young and his fellow young teammates to carry themselves with more maturity and take on a more serious approach, believing that would translate into better on-court results. New coach Flip Saunders agrees and said he’ll be watching Young closely this week during summer league play in Las Vegas.
Saunders said he’ll be looking for two things.
“A calmness in his approach to the game and maybe a seriousness in his approach to the game,” he said. “Nick is a very happy-go-lucky guy, and he smiles a lot. I think as a young player you don’t always have to smile. You’re better off having a bit of that nastiness. I never saw Michael Jordan smile too much. The only time he was smiling was when he was kicking your butt.
“I think as a young player it’s a fine line between enthusiasm, passion and sometimes just understanding the importance of each possession of games and the importance of games.”
If the first two months of the Wizards’ offseason are any indication, Young may be shedding some of the silliness. After Saunders came aboard and added Sam Cassell to his staff, Young has worked to learn the new system and improve his fundamentals, including developing a quicker release when coming off screens and becoming a better defender. He’s also trying to develop a more serious demeanor, but that hasn’t been easy.
“[Saunders] keeps telling me to stop smiling so much, but it’s been kinda hard,” Young said Monday at Verizon Center after the Wizards’ final summer league practice. “I’m trying to put my game face on out there and just be ready, attacking and have fun. Well, I can’t have fun - because when I have fun, I start smiling.
“But just trying to go out there with a kill mode, mean streak. … I’ve been trying, but at times I catch myself smiling or cracking a joke. … I think it’ll help, going out there [and] being more aggressive. If I’m going out there with a mean streak, it’ll make me more aggressive. That’s how I see it.”
Young said the Wizards’ acquisition of guards Randy Foye and Mike Miller from Minnesota last month surprised him at first. But after speaking with Wizards management, he was set at ease.
“At first I thought maybe I was part of the trade,” he said. “They told me that the trade didn’t hurt me, so I’m not worried now. Just got to work.”
Although it’s early, Saunders said he is pleased with the progress Young has made but added his maturation and development will take time.
“Nick relies a lot upon direction, and I think in a direction-oriented offense, he can flourish,” Saunders said. “It’s a process - it takes time to go through everything - but I think from the beginning to the end, his biggest progress has been trying to defend. There’s a lot expected out of him, and with higher expectations as an individual player, you have bigger responsibility.”