A celebration of the NBA's most infuriating players, both past and present. Read other NBA Shit List entries here.
Nick Young is a player to whom accrues, like an umber bacterial film to the inside of a toilet bowl, the most popular of all lazy knee-jerk complaints from cursory observers of the NBA: He's not even playing hard! Generally speaking, in discussion of professional basketball, barking about the players' lack of effort is shorthand: What it really means is, "I don't watch NBA games," or, worse, "I listen to a lot of Colin Cowherd." It's a common refrain from the College Basketball Is Like Way The Best! crowd, which is to say, people who do not watch college basketball, either, but who enjoy filling out an NCAA tournament bracket every spring and drinking beer while amateurs wave their arms a lot and make 21 percent of their field goal attempts on a neglected television in the background.
That NBA players, as a rule, exert themselves beyond the capacity of normal human beings every night is lost on the he's not even playing hard! folks, as is the reality that basketball is a game won by the team that puts the ball in the hoop more often than its opponent, and not the one whose small white guys wave their arms with the most vigor. Still, like any rule, the effort level of NBA players has its exceptions, as anyone who has ever watched a full season of Andray Blatche could attest, if it happens to occur to you to ask next time you're visiting your local inpatient mental health facility.
Nick Young, though, is not an exception to this rule. Nick Young is trying. Nick Young is trying very hard. The problem with Nick Young is not whether he's trying; the problem is what he's trying to do. What is he trying to do?
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Among NBA fans who have had the misfortune to follow his career, Young's absurdly puny assist numbers are a running joke. In the 2012 season, in which he played a total of 62 games between Washington and Los Angeles, he recorded 56 assists, 0.9 per game, a hideously tiny number for a perimeter player. Basic statistical averages can be misleading in basketball, but this one is not. It's inaccurate to say that Nick Young is a bad passer, because this might lead to the mistaken assumption that he ever willfully conveys the ball from his hands to another player's. What's most baffling about the assist statistic above isn't that he got only 56 assists, but rather that, over the course of 62 games, he evidently dribbled the ball off of his foot enough times to mistakenly create 56 baskets for those total strangers wearing shirts like his.
To confirm my anecdotal sense of his game, I've spent the past three seasons carefully documenting every single one of Young's touches, for the Wizards and also for the Clippers. It turns out that on a shocking 62.3 percent of his touches, he forced (and bricked) a contested pull-up 20-footer early in the shot-clock. On another 20.4 percent of his touches, he forced (and bricked) a contested pull-up 20-footer early in the shot-clock. And on the remaining 17.3 percent of his touches, he turned and pegged the ball through the television screen, directly into my face.
The NBA community at large has tried to make sense of his complete obliviousness to the existence of his teammates by casting Young as a scorer, for the woeful Wizards and again for the Clippers. His qualifications, such as they are, are his zeal for attempting the very most worthless shots imaginable (long two-pointers early in the shot-clock) and absolutely nothing else—no particular aptitude for scoring, no refined skillset, no history of efficient production. Nothing. Nor is he good at anything else one might do to earn playing time on a professional basketball team.
I don't hold encompassing basketball uselessness against, say, Jason Collins, who recognizes his bootless nature and at least can be counted upon to make a game attempt at doing as much harm to his opponents as he does to his own team. (And also to mostly fail at this, but in a charming Inspector Clouseau kind of way.) Plenty of people stink at basketball. I stink at basketball. Stinking at basketball is no crime, and for that we should be thankful, because it has forced Darius Miles to find other, generally funnier, reasons to go to jail.
The Shit List archives: Anthony Carter | Toney Douglas | Bill Cartwright | DeShawn Stevenson | Michael Sweetney | Dahntay Jones | Eddie House | Sasha Vujacic | Voshon Lenard | Eric Leckner | Dwight Howard | Andris Biedrins | Antawn Jamison
Nick Young's problem is that he is resolutely unwilling to acknowledge his basketball rottenness, and the gravity of his stubbornness continually pulls into its orbit broadcasters and sportswriters and the like, who write and say things like, "Nick Young is the key to [Team X]'s offense," and "[Team X] really needs to get Nick Young going early in tonight's game," and "Nick Young has not yet been hit by a meteor," over and over again like they don't even know that you're fitting the noose around your neck even as they speak.
What does it mean to "get Nick Young going"? That he will rev himself up and hit a few contested 20-footers in a row, and thus not be dissuaded from constantly attempting them? Forcing long, contested two-point shots, like making a hot garbage omelet, is perhaps the sort of thing one shouldn't be comfortable doing, and it's the only thing Young is comfortable doing on a basketball court, even though he shouldn't be, not only because it's a bad thing to be comfortable doing, but also because, like everything else a person might be asked to do on a basketball court, he's pretty bad at it.
And yet, Nick Young begins the 2012-13 season on the third NBA team (the Philadelphia 76ers this time) to have deliberately chosen to employ him.
This, ultimately, is what makes Nick Young so loathsome: that he is an affront to the entire notion that basketball, the NBA, and the world are governed by any discernible sense or order. A scorer who stinks at scoring; a professional who plays his sublimely team-based sport utterly by himself; a living, breathing human being whose upper body, when he runs, trails behind the rest of him like floppy dead weight, like a raggedy old corpse riding a rollercoaster. His career is made out of nothing more than his own utterly misbegotten certainty that he is a good basketball player, and the willingness of a depressing succession of professional talent evaluators to take his smirk for it.
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So, back to our question: What is Nick Young trying to do? Watching him, you're reminded of an overindulged 13-year-old kid who, while his rec league teammates try to win a basketball game, works on his Michael Jordan imitation, utterly impervious to any meaning that his glowering teammates, his apoplectic coach, or his 0-for-28 box-score line might be shrieking into his face. Double-clutch reverse layup (brick); turnaround fadeaway (brick); tongue-wagging free-throw-line takeoff (brick). Lost in his imagination. All walled-off self-consciousness, basketball as solo performance art, fantasy day camp, masturbation.
That's Nick Young, only he's not imitating Michael Jordan. Horribly, nightmarishly, he's imitating Nick Young: a spiraling bottomless Nick Young cover—dribble dribble dribble, 20-footer, brick, whoa that was totally a Nick Young shot dude, I'ma put that on YouTube. Who knows how it started? It seems plausible that, as a Southern California kid, he might have idolized Kobe Bryant (all those long baseline twos), and maybe he just got so badly lost in the hedge maze of his own worship that he wound up following his own trail.
It's irrelevant, now. Nick Young is so far up his own ass that he's not even playing basketball anymore. He's playing Nick Young.
Albert Burneko writes a food column for Deadspin. Peevishly correct his foolishness at email@example.com.
Image by Jim Cooke