NICK YOUNG: "THE OPPORTUNITY IS HERE"
The sixth-year guard out of USC continues to turn up his play, with Young chipping in 18 points, four rebounds and four assists in the Sixers' 92-84 win over Washington Wednesday.
Beyond the stats, which have been eye-opening, Young has demonstrated an ability to alter his game – from trigger-happy shooter to all-around contributor. Maybe there's more to Young than that Swaggy P monikor, Sixers coach Doug Collins intimated.
“It's tough,” Young said with a grin, “because (Collins) calls me Swaggy P all day, right?”
Inserted into the Sixers' starting lineup three games ago, in a move necessitated by Jason Richardson's ailing knee, Young has been anything but a shooter for the Sixers. He's been a maker (as evidenced by his 7-for-17 effort against the Wizards), a distributor (you see that no-look pass in the lane?), a stopper and a rebounder. Before this month, when would you have seen Young mixing it up in the middle attempting to clean up the glass?
Collins said Young's play has come a long way since that Jan. 12 benching, in which Young was a healthy DNP.
“I think he has really listened as we've tried to teach him. He's focused,” Collins said. “I told him when we got him, 'My last goal as a coach is to make you a polished player and not Swaggy P, just the act – a player.' He's guarding now. He had four assists tonight. How many times do you see him get in there and make plays for our guys? He's defending.
“He's earned the trust of his teammates, but – more importantly – he trusted the coaching staff when he came here. (Young's agent) Mark Bartelstein, when I met with him, I said, 'Swaggy has a ton of talent. If he'll come in here and really focus, he's got a chance to be a terrific player,' and we're starting to see that at the right time. In fairness to him, J-Rich was our starter. J-Rich has been a starter his entire career and J-Rich got a lot of the starts. And I wanted (Young) to be like our Lou Williams. I wanted him to come off the bench and score for us, and I'm seeing now he's better with heavier minutes.”
Young admits that it wasn't always easy to focus, not when he's had to come off the bench for the Sixers. Being called upon to play in place of Richardson, getting a start against his former Washington club, sharing a backcourt with All-Star Jrue Holiday – all of it has contributed to a more-sound game from Young.
And the reason for his revival?
“Really just playing, going out there with confidence,” Young said. “My teammates are trusting in me, believing in me. The coaching staff is believing in me. That's big – coming from a DNP to the starting lineup. It's a blessing. It hurt, sitting on the sideline. I don't want to go back to that. The opportunity is here. I just want to keep going, day by day, every practice, everything. Just be ready.”
If you're looking for proof that Young's game has become more balanced, consider the numbers from his last five games. Among Eastern Conference guards, he ranks in the top 20 in combined points/rebounds/assists. He's had three games of four-or-more rebounds in his last six times out – the first time he's done that since Jan. 30-Feb. 8, 2012. He's had three or more assists three times in his last four games – a stretch unmatched in his career.
“I'm starting to buy into what he's talking about, what the coaching staff is talking about,” Young said.