The Sixers signed Nick Young this offseason. Imagine their surprise when he played like Nick Young.
“We want Swaggy! We want Swaggy!,” a small but loud coterie of 76ers fans chanted in the fourth quarter of the team’s April 14 win over the Cavaliers. They didn’t get him, of course. For the 10th occasion this season, and the ninth time since the calendar turned to March, Nick Young didn’t enter a basketball game he was medically cleared to play in. (Young notched his 11th DNP-CD of the year the following night against Detroit.)
After the game, Swaggy vanished, cleared out of the locker room before the media showed up, poking around intrusively with their notepads and voice recorders and questions. His locker was mostly empty, save a t-shirt or two and some shoe insoles sitting on a chair. No one begrudged him his absence. With the kind of season the 27-year-old has endured, we’d want to get out of dodge too.
It’s not clear what exactly the Sixers thought they were getting when they signed Nick Young to a one-year/$5.6 million contract this July. A playmaker? A scorer? A toolsy project player? A bigger Lou Williams? What is inarguable though is this: they couldn’t have expected anything better than what they got. Swaggy has had, by any meaningful measure, a career season in 2012-13.
His turnover percentage is at a career low, while his assist percentage is at a career high. He’s posting the second-highest total rebounding rate he ever has, and his block and steal percentages are each above his career norms, as are his true shooting percentage and effective field goal percentage (albeit by just a hair.) Consequently his 0.81 WS/48 and 0.059 WP48—the two catchall advanced stats we put the most stock in in these parts—are leaps and bounds above anything he managed his first five seasons, and his 13.5 PER will be the second-best mark he’s ever attained.
Even defensively, where he has a reputation for indifferent, sieve-like play, Young has been very good. According to mySynergySports, opponents are shooting just 37.1 percent against Swaggy this season (102-for-275). For point of comparison, defensive stalwarts Jrue Holiday and Andre Iguodala are allowing opponents to shoot 41.9 and 37.5 percent on the year. While field goal percentage allowed is a blunt figure that doesn’t take into account some pretty important context, this is still incredible.
Now, none of this is to say Nick Young is good. He isn’t, of course. While he wears his hair in interesting and, in their own way, courageous styles, attempts and occasionally hits shots most players wouldn’t even consider, and has become something of a fan favorite—the dude, suffice it to say, has swag to spare—he, in now almost six seasons of NBA basketball, has yet to have a year where he’s even within shouting distance of league average production. The only thing he consistently does better than your average shooting guard is attempt shots. And he still hasn’t quite worked out the whole “hitting them” thing.
So the Sixers signed Nick Young, and became tremendously disappointed when he played like a marginally better version of Nick Young. It’s the kind of schizophrenic thinking a coach/GM/organizational-overlord can get fired for. Or, if you believe what you read in the papers, resign over.