The 2010-2011 regular season ends today. The entire season will be over for all but 16 of the NBA's finest teams.
Unfortunately for the Washington Wizards, they were in the latter category. 81 games and only 23 wins later, the Wiz are lottery bound and in prime position to pick up a prospect for their rebuilding project.
The Wiz have young talent at every position, but the starting lineup going into next season is particularly hazy at shooting guard. Nick Young made tremendous strides over the year, averaging over 20 PPG in January and February. Since he was shut down for the year with an injury, however, Jordan Crawford has filled in as a volume scorer—and helped lead the Wizards to their best ball of the season.
In addition, scoring prowess is not their only positive similarity. After all, they've both dunked on LeBron James—and in this league, even small psychological advantages count when forced to compete with Miami year-in and year-out.
"Great," you say, "it'll be a blessing to have one of these two coming off the bench next season!" Unfortunately, it's not that easy. Nick Young has a reasonable qualifying offer in the offseason at around $3.7 million. While the Wizards should certainly extend him that offer, it appears numerous other teams around the league are interested in the 25-year-old's services.
Because Young was buried in the Wizards depth chart the past couple of seasons—mostly because the team used to have plenty of talent and scoring prowess in their veteran leadership—we are getting the first real glimpses of what he can do. Namely, score the ball and not much else.
Who should start at Shooting Guard for the Wizards in 2011?
Crawford is in a similar boat, getting the first consistent playing time of his rookie campaign after being buried in Atlanta's bench most of the season. He's very raw, but has been active on both ends of the floor and seems determined to make his mark on the Wizards.
So what are the pros and cons of committing to each player? Looking at an admittedly limited sample, here's what we can gather:
He's clearly the more efficient player right now, sporting a 54 percent true shooting mark on a team of middling shooters. He's about two inches taller and 15 pounds heavier than Crawford, too—something that you look for in a starting 2 and that will help keep him on the floor when play gets physical and you're looking for a mismatch. His elite-level athleticism gives him an advantage over a lot of guys in the league.
Young also sports a lower usage rate, so he's getting his points while utilizing fewer of the team's possessions to take a shot or get to the line. This, accompanied by his low turnover rate (less than two per game in almost 40 minutes), makes him less of a question mark going forward.
Unfortunately, he doesn't do much else for the Wizards. With John Wall at point, he doesn't have to be a great distributor or ball handler, but he's not even particularly good at those skills—despite spending four years in the league. He's worked to dismiss the criticisms this year, but for several seasons he seemed to have questionable attitude and motivation, often sulking about his lack of playing time and complaining when calls didn't go his way.
Crawford does a lot more when he's on the court. That can be both good (he racks up almost three times the assists and hauls in more rebounds) and bad (almost three turnovers a game and a shooting percentage in the low 40s). Although he's extremely active, he's undisciplined in his ball-handling and shot selection.
Despite his inefficiency from the field and downtown, he shoots a better percentage from the line. Many scouts insist that free throw shooting is the best indicator of a player's shooting potential, and in that regard Crawford is one of the top shooters in the league. If he could get to the line more often (right now he and Young are neck-and-neck at four FTs a game) that would be a major factor, but he has yet to learn how to draw contact. In addition, he may have some trouble given his smallish frame for a shooting guard.
Most importantly, however, Crawford is more than three years younger than "IheartNY." In college, Crawford shot 46 percent from the field and 39 percent from 3-point range—other indicators that he can improve his shooting and may just need some time adjusting to NBA defenses and the extended three point line. He's pretty fearless for a 22-year-old rookie, which bodes well for him.
Tale of the Tape
From DraftExpress.com (a little outdated for Young):
The Bottom Line
Crawford will only make an average of $1.5 million dollars over the next three seasons. Young has a qualifying offer coming up at about $3.7 million for next season alone. While the number is reasonable, there are reasons to believe other teams will be making a run at the USC product in the offseason.
Will the Wizards be able to match what he can get on the free market? They have the salary flexibility, but something tells me another team would be willing to offer him a deal in the neighborhood of $15 million for three years—still a decent deal for a potential 20-point-per-game scorer who's only 25.
Who would make such an offer? Well, maybe as many as half a dozen teams. Young has prototypical size and skill set for a shooting guard, and was drafted as such coming out of college (Pick No. 16 in 2007). He's had to overcome a lot in his life—a brother being gunned down, having to change high schools twice to avoid local gangs and almost being academically ineligible to play at the college level. That does not go unnoticed, and I'll be rooting for his bright future.
If I'm correct, however, it will be hard for the Wizards to rationalize re-signing a veteran player with limited performance history at or around the current Mid-Level Exception. This is especially true because they have some rebuilding years to develop Crawford at minimal cost.
If it's just a matter of extending Young's qualifying offer, the Wizards would not find a better value out there. But that appears to be fantasy at this point, even with the Wiz shutting him down a couple weeks ago to minimize his value around the league.
To be sure, bringing Crawford off the bench would be a luxury. Not many teams have two capable scorers with upside at the position, and he could have a Jason-Terry-like impact off the bench with some work on his jump shot. But there is also some risk in keeping Crawford out of the starting lineup—namely, that he's performed poorly in that role and it may hinder his development.
If the Wiz can retain Young with a qualifying offer, they should do so. Or, if they could figure out a sign-and-trade deal (unlikely) and get a first-round pick in return (also unlikely) it would be another shrewd move by a recently renovated front office. But assuming some demand still exists for Young in the offseason, Crawford is my pick to man the back court with John Wall in 2011-12.