The Clippers' acquisition of Nick Young at the Trade Deadline buzzer is a terrific move for the team. Is it a game changer? Perhaps not. But there is zero basketball cost to the team this season (losing Brian Cook is obviously not an issue), and very little cost in the long term (a 2015 second round pick from New Orleans). In the end, it's a no brainer.
It's also a serious departure for the Clippers organization. Because what they are doing is spending money (a couple million dollars more for Young over Cook) to try to buy some wins and a better playoff run this season. Young is pretty much the definition of a rental. The Clippers did not acquire his Bird rights -- in fact Young had to waive them in order to make the deal possible -- so Young has essentially no higher chance of being a Clipper next season than if he'd been traded to any other team. He'll be a free agent, and if he stays with the Clippers beyond June 2012 it will be via a salary cap exception. There's a good chance that the Clippers will look to use their mid level exception elsewhere, so the odds that Young is a Clipper for the long haul aren't that great.
This is what contending teams do. They look for deals that can help push them a little higher. The fact that Neil Olshey was able to make it happen without giving up any assets beyond a second round pick, and without committing any long term salary -- well, kudos Neil.
How will Nick Young help the Clippers? He's a bona fide scorer (averaging 16.6 points per game this season), and has the size on the wing that the Clippers were seeking. He'll no doubt move straight into the starting lineup when he gets to town -- or rather when the physicals necessary to complete the trades have been completed, which should see him in uniform for the Clippers Tuesday night in Indianapolis. He's by no means a defensive stopper, but he certainly has the tools to be a good defender -- he's long, he's quick, he has better than average two guard size.
There's actually some question as to how good or bad defender Young is. The Wizards have been a terrible defensive team during Young's entire career, but that doesn't mean he's a terrible individual defender. Olshey, for what it's worth, has been telling anyone who will listen that "in isolation, on-the-ball situations, Nick Young is in the top 10 percent in the league as a defender" (he told that to Arash Markazi, and he also said it during the game broadcast Thursday night). What does that mean, top 10 percent in isolation? I have no idea -- defense is essentially impossible to quantify, so I find this particular pronouncement pretty amusing really. But I will say that individual defense is probably the most misunderstood aspect of today's NBA -- which is why Kobe Bryant makes the NBA's All Defensive team year after year. If the conventional wisdom on Nick Young is that he's a poor defender, it's entirely possible that the conventional wisdom is dead wrong. It's not as if I've even watched him closely enough to have an informed opinion, so we'll have to wait and see.
The issue on offense is that Nick Young is a chucker of the highest order. Last season Tom Ziller did an analysis that determined that Young was among the biggest (blackest? deepest? most gravitationally immense?) black holes in the NBA -- no guard in Ziller's analysis had a lower assist rate than Young. He shoots and he shoots and he shoots -- and when there are no shots available, he still shoots. He doesn't get assists, he doesn't rebound much. He shoots.
Which might be OK on a team run by Chris Paul, with Blake Griffin in the post. On a kickout from Griffin out of the double team, it's appropriate to shoot much of the time. And Paul will have the ball in his hands for the lion's share of the shot clock on most Clipper possessions. When Paul gives the ball to Young, it will no doubt be at the time and place where he expects and wants Young to shoot. I'm can't say where I come out on this issue, but I did find this post from SBNation's Wizards blog Bullets Forever to be informative.
One important aspect of the acquisition is that Young can also play small forward when the Clippers decide to go smaller. More than Randy Foye, it's likely to be Bobby Simmons who is being replaced in the current rotation (in fact, it will be interesting to see if the Clippers sign Simmons for the rest of the season when his second 10 day contract comes to an end in a couple of days). Foye's numbers will decrease no doubt -- but I'm guessing that Simmons will be the odd man out since it's impractical to play an 11 man rotation.
The fact that Young is replacing a shooting guard who is already a bit of a chucker himself makes this a good gamble as well. Foye's role on the current Clippers team is to hit open jumpers, to create shots when he has the ball and a short shot clock, and to do his best defending shooting guards. Young can do all of those things, better than Foye in each case, with more upside, and much better size.
It's worth bearing in mind also that Young has been on bad -- and not just bad but also dysfunctional -- Wizards teams his whole career. He has played for four different coaches in fewer than five years in the league (and is probably on track for six in six, fingers crossed). That could be good or it could be bad as regards his move to the Clippers. It may be that he was simply a scorer on a bad team -- that Washington's overall ineptitude and need for points accentuated Young's strengths (i.e. he can score), but that he'll be mostly a liability in a less desperate situation. Or it could be that being in a more positive environment, on a team with a chance to win every night, will bring out the best in Young. I don't know that we can look to Vinny Del Negro to work magic on the player development front, but having a backcourt running mate like Chris Paul (as opposed to say, Gilbert Arenas, who was Young's point guard during his first three and a half seasons in the league) could make a huge difference.
Look at it this way -- the Clippers tried desperately to get J.R. Smith a few weeks ago. Young is a lot like Smith -- tons of talent, great size and athleticism, great range, but maybe a bit of a chucklehead. Paul seemed to enjoy playing alongside Smith his rookie season with the Hornets -- hopefully he'll feel the same about Young.
Whether this acquisition has a positive impact on the team remains to be seen. It comes at a crucial time, with the team playing poorly. Even if Young isn't the be all end all answer to the Clippers issues, if he can inject some new energy into the team it could make a huge difference. The way they've been playing recently, anything that shakes things up is good. The fact that Young may actually be a very good player for this team is even better.