Nick Young turning into more than just an act

Nick Young turning into more than just an act
January 31, 2013, 6:00 pm
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It’s the rare day when Nick Young isn’t smiling. With a relaxed attitude and an easygoing nature that exceeds his California cool, it doesn’t seem as if anything can bother Young.

He is, after all, Swaggy P, the fun-loving gunner whose aim is to score big with style and panache. For Swaggy P, it doesn’t matter what you do as long as you look good doing it.

But beneath the smile and through the veneer of the character, there is something else lurking. Sixers coach Doug Collins said he saw it before the season began when the team had just inked Young to a one-year deal.

According to Collins, he told Young’s agent Mark Bartelstein that his aim was to turn Nick Young, a.k.a. Swaggy P into Nick Young, basketball player.

“I told him when we got him that my goal as his coach was to make him a more polished player,” Collins said after Young’s 18-point performance in the victory over the Washington Wizards on Wednesday night. “Not ‘Swaggy P’ and the act, but a player.”

Collins said he wanted Young to be the new version of what Lou Williams was for the Sixers over the past couple of seasons. That was a savvy veteran able to come off the bench to provide quick scoring, clutch shooting and leadership on the floor.

For Young, that is quite a departure from the public image.

Not even two weeks ago Collins announced that he was moving Young out of his rotation and into a seat at the end of the bench. Notorious for giving significant playing time to only four perimeter players, Collins felt as though Young’s defense was too troublesome and his offense did not provide the same punch as that of veteran Jason Richardson.

Needless to say it was a troubling time for Young, who took the first healthy DNP-CD of his career during a victory over Houston. He was a player whose jump shot seemingly had a place in every coach’s rotation. During his first four-and-a-half seasons playing for Washington, Young averaged 10 shots per game, or one every other minute of playing time, and routinely posted prolific scoring and shooting nights.

Sometimes even in the same game.

So when Collins moved Young to the bench and kept him there, it stung. Sure, there were the obvious shortcomings, such as the dearth of defensive prowess and the shoot-first attitude. But a trip from a regular spot in the rotation to the bench can make a player question himself.

Worse, Young could have become a distraction.

“It’s very easy for guys who have been in this league for a long time like that just to pack it in [when they get sent to the bench], and [Young] didn’t do that and I’m incredibly appreciative of that,” Collins said. “This is a tough business, and when you’ve got seven wings that you’re trying to get time and to try to mix and match to get everyone in there, it’s tough.”

Change is always tough, but Young is trying. Case in point is his passing and defense. For instance, amazingly, Young had four assists in a game just 13 times in 357 regular-season games headed into the season. This season, he already has six games in which he’s handed out at least four assists.

Perhaps there has been a bit of a transformation for Swaggy P?

“I’m starting to buy into what the coaches are talking about,” Young said.

Collins buys what Young is saying, too.

“He’s guarding now, he had four assists and he’s getting in there and making plays for our guys,” Collins said. “He’s earned the trust of his teammates and, more importantly, he trusted the coaching staff when he came here.”

Yes, trust in the coaching staff often leads to more playing time. And what Collins has learned about Young over the past two weeks, he said, is that Young performs better with the more he plays. Some players break down or get tired, but Young seems to get more focused and more involved in the game.

“He has really listened as we’ve tried to teach him,” Collins said. “He’s focused.”

He also might be putting together his best season in the NBA. Though Young has had better numbers, he’s actually contributing more this year. Call it veteran leadership or just a friendly face in the locker room, Young didn’t pout or complain even though he said it hurt when he found himself on the bench.

Instead he just waited for a chance and now it seems as if he won’t be going back to the bench anytime soon.

“It hurt just sitting on the sideline,” Young said. “I don't want to go back to that. The opportunity is here. I’m just going to keep going day by day, practice, game time. I just want to be ready.”

A professional attitude and a more mature game bode well for any player in the last season of a contract.

“I’m just starting to find myself on this team,” Young said. “There have been a couple of ups and downs. Coach has been a little tough, but they’ve been on me all year. I’m trying to figure it out. I’m learning. It’s kind of tough, but picking it up along the way, getting better. I’m in a good situation right now.”

Who knows, maybe soon Swaggy P will better be known as Nick Young, basketball player.