In 2012, Young started a career-high 24 out of 33 games and averaged 24.4 minutes per game – the most minutes she’s logged since the Atlanta Dream made her the first WNBA player to come out of James Madison University with the eighth pick of the 2008 WNBA Draft.
It certainly helps to receive ample opportunity on the court to prove oneself, but Young showed Sky head coach Pokey Chatman she’s also stepped up her game at a cerebral level. Case in point: Two years ago, Young attempted a career-high 47 3-point attempts and finished with a field goal-shooting rate of 36 percent. In 2011, she attempted just seven 3-pointers and focused on getting her shots inside the arc, which raised her percentage dramatically to 42 percent. In 2012 Young took just one trey attempt while the other 273 shots were mostly mid-range or closer. She maintained her 42-percent clip to give the Sky one of the safest scoring bets from the wing position as she averaged a career-best 8.2 points per game. Young made her living knocking down baseline jumpers or slashing to the hoop for easy layups or and-1s.
Where Young really terrorized opponents, however, was on the defensive end. As the Sky’s top stopper, she was often given the toughest assignment of defending the best opposing player, whether that might be New York’s explosive guard Cappie Pondexter or Atlanta’s lengthy forward Angel McCoughtry. While Young’s height and speed allowed her to shadow a variety of scoring threats, it was also her team-first, can-do attitude that Chatman relished in a defensive stopper. But after Sky guard Epiphanny Prince went down with a foot injury in June, Young, who had been a luxury for the Sky off the bench, graciously took the starting role and adjusted her game. “With Epiphanny down, a lot of people had to step up offensively. I’ve been trying to be aggressive,” Young said. “I loved to come off the bench, but if the coach needs me in the starting lineup, then that’s what I have to do because we’re all here for one goal – make it to the playoffs and get a championship.”
Young’s six years of experiences are paying off as her veteran decision-making skills improve with each game. She recorded 16 fewer turnovers than last year’s total despite spending much more time on the court. She’s also become a better on-the-ball defender without resorting to fouls and forcing Chatman to pull her early in games. Young committed eight less fouls than in 2011. But it’s her well-rounded production of 3.7 rebounds per game, 1.4 assists per game and 1.0 steal per game that make it difficult for Chatman to keep Young off the floor. The 6-foot-2 forward rewarded the coach with a number of stellar performances, including a pair of contests against the New York Liberty. On July 6 against New York, she had 16 points, eight rebounds, three assists and a block to boot. On September 7, Young torched the Liberty for a season-high 19 points on 8-of-11 shooting to go with five boards, two assists and two steals. And on September 2 against L.A., Young scored 11 points to make her the sixth Sky player to reach 1,000 career points.
Perhaps it’s a sign that Young happened to attend the same high school (Laney High in North Carolina) as another Chicago baller who made a name for himself – Michael Jordan. Or perhaps it’s just coincidence. But if Young continues to exhibit the same drive to improve, the same defensive tenacity, and the same will to bring her team a title that made His Airness a legend, it’s easy to see why she’s a keeper for years to come.