Northeast Ohio may have reasons to celebrate like crazed children. Their king is returning to his throne.
Can Los Angeles experience the same joy today?
Let’s not get outrageous, although I’m known to slip to that side on occasion.
Nick Young, the hometown hero, has re-signed with the Los Angeles Lakers on a four-year, $21.5 million deal. It’s about time Mitch Kupchak started making signings, considering mid-July is nearly here and the Lakers were stuck with four guys under contract. Kobe Bryant, Robert Sacre, Steve Nash, and Kendall Marshall is about as attractive as Metta World Peace‘s fast breaks, and people aren’t lined up at the door to play next to that.
Like LeBron James, Young’s sentimentality outweighs basketball … or so it may seem.
Growing up in Southern California and staying there from childhood to the college dorms at USC, Young is exactly the type of breed Los Angeles needs. He’s bounced around the country since joining the pros — Philadelphia, Washington, now back home — but always had his most enjoyable times playing at Staples Center. Whether it’s for Sterling’s Clippers (God I hate saying that) or Buss’s Lakers, Young has had the most upbeat attitude of his career.
He was raised a Lakers fan, though, not one of the cross-town rivals.
“The feeling of being a Laker is much different, Young said last season. “The atmosphere is crazy and the fans are better. The Clippers are like our little brothers.”
Coming from a guy that’s been a member of both teams, Young’s words have to own some stock there. Unless, of course, he’s just being biased to the purple and gold.
Since gaining the talents of Chris Paul and Jamal Crawford, and having Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan take their games to a level we couldn’t fathom, the Clippers have been head and shoulders over the Lakers. From a success standpoint, that’s the cold hard truth.
From a PR perspective and how well the two teams have brought in fan revenue, it’s the same way. People would rather come to Staples Center — with Magic and Kareem’s statues standing proudly out front — and watch younger, athletic guys get up and down the floor with speed. They may not want the “Lob City” label any longer, but it still exists within that team’s culture, and it’s helped them take over the city for the time being.
Young gives the Lakers one of the two things they desperately need this offseason; scoring to help mitigate the pressure on 36-year-old Kobe Bryant. Bryant will play at age 36 next season, although he’s still currently 35. No player entering their final days as a superstar, legend or not, wants the burden of carrying a team on his back offensively.
Swaggy P may be a gunner in his own sense, but he fits the profile of being the type of scorer Los Angeles needs. One that’s not afraid to take crucial shots, and a special knack for getting to the foul line. Young led the Lakers in free throw attempts last season (4.5 per game), although it wasn’t impressive compared to the more slashing shooting guards in the league (James Harden).
The other blatant need for the Lakers is someone that can bring a defensive specification to the city.
The Clippers, with Doc Rivers, are slowly but surely transferring their focus to the defensive end. While ranking first in offensive rating last season (112.1), Rivers forced his frontcourt to show flashes of brilliance stopping other offenses. It’s something the Lakers need to obtain, before the city completely shifts to blue and red.
People may say it will always be a Showtime town, but there’s only so much you can withstand of a team giving up 135 points a night. It gets disheartening, and puts a bad name on the team, coaches involved, and NBA defenses as a whole. When the most popular NBA franchise — who gets roughly 28 to 30 nationally televised games a year — lets other teams run up the score, the league gets a bad repute.
Young doesn’t give the Lakers any hope in that area.
During last year’s dreadful 27-55 season, Young recorded the worst defensive rating of anyone in purple and gold, at 114 points allowed per 100 possessions. Given that most members of last season’s Laker team fell victim to the worst injury plague we’ve ever seen, he still wasn’t a ball stopper while on the floor in his 64 games. In terms of defensive win shares, Young finished last out of all Lakers that played at least 60 games, at just 0.3. Win shares estimates the amount of wins contributed to a player, on the respective end of the court.
The crossovers may be swagged to the max and the pull-up jumpers are probably the most entertaining part of the Lakers when Bryant isn’t on the floor, but he has no lateral quickness on defense. All the primary defensive issues for the Lakers last season came as a result of poor perimeter stoppers.
This league is growing by the year in terms of loading up on point guards that amaze us with their dazzle, and it’s becoming impossible to stop lane penetration. Other teams, such as Indiana, Chicago and San Antonio, can contain it just enough to give them advantages. And, even when their guards and wings aren’t able to stop penetration, they all have bigs that save their defenses. No more than Indiana, who’s had Roy Hibbert save their behinds on so many instances at the rim. Survey John Wall about that one.
For Gasol and Hill, they’re not the type of defenders that are able to save the Lakers on multiple defensive possessions. Gasol was aging, and Hill isn’t always large enough or experienced enough to know how to defend the league’s top guards.
All of it begins with the Lakers’ wings, and how well they’re able to keep guys in front of them, or at least stay with their assignments. Once blow-bys are in effect, it’s over … especially when you’re extremely thin up front.
Bryant, at this stage of his career, isn’t too concerned about being an All-Defensive guard. He knows the fresh legs around the league have caught up to him, although he can still score with the best of them. Steve Nash, if able to play more than five seconds, won’t be enough to even stop JaVale McGee from blowing past him, more less the top ten guards he’ll be facing night in and night out. Add that on top of Jeremy Lin being acquired Friday, and you got yourself a whole backcourt — as of now — full of feasting.
Young, at age 29, has to be the guy to raise his prowess.
He’s the only perimeter player remotely with size (6’7″) that isn’t old, or coming off a devastating injury. The knee setback last year wasn’t anything to sneeze at, but it isn’t nerve root irritation or a fractured tibial plateau, or Achilles surgery.
This coming season, Young will be playing more off the ball than he did when Bryant was out last year.
You could notice the differences Young was dealing with, going from a role player with Philadelphia and Washington to a number one scoring option with the Lakers. The shot that he loves over anything, the 3-pointer, notice a bit of a change.
In 2013-14, the percentage of Young’s 3-point attempts that were assisted was just 79.3, compared to his past years that saw 86.7 in Philadelphia, and above 90 percent in Washington.
He’s not going to be in the pressure of having to create off the dribble, and most of Los Angeles would probably be happier seeing him get more opportunities off the catch.
As you can see, while Young attributed his offense evenly between pull-up shots and catch and shoot situations, it’s obvious which type he was more efficient with.
This discrepancy was entirely larger than that of say, Kevin Durant last season. You notice the 14.7 percent difference in efficiency between Young’s shots off the dribble and when he’s catching and firing. For Durant, his pull-ups came at a 49.5 percent efficiency last season, while his shots off the catch ended up at 52.1 percent. That’s relatively consistent and even, although it could just be the factor of Durant being god-like as a shooter & scorer.
Nonetheless, the fact that Swaggy will have more chances at spotting up and waiting for his looks — since the ball will be in Bryant’s hand — looks terrific for his offense. You could tell Young increased his production last season when they called up Kendall Marshall from the D-League. Why? Because it’s easier for a pure shooter to thrive when he has a pass-first guy in the same lineup.
As for the argument of whether Young should start or come off the bench with this roster, it’s up in the air at this point. Really, what isn’t up in the air for these Lakers? Kobe’s shots will be, that’s for sure.
Los Angeles still has a shot at free agents Trevor Ariza and Luol Deng, but the fact of the matter is … both of them want to play for title contention. That’s not with the Lakers, as tough as it is to believe.
Young agreed to come back home, rather than riding the coattails of a playoff team. You respect that a great deal, but it doesn’t mean you can can expect to have the same attitude as last season.
Bryant will want more than 27 wins, and Swaggy is one of the many that will have to dig deep to get them there.