Los Angeles Lakers: The Changing Roles of Nick Young

Dec 14, 2013; Charlotte, NC, USA; Los Angeles Lakers forward guard Nick Young (0) is defended by Charlotte Bobcats guard Ben Gordon (8) during the first half of the game at Time Warner Cable Arena. Mandatory Credit: Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 14, 2013; Charlotte, NC, USA; Los Angeles Lakers forward guard Nick Young (0) is defended by Charlotte Bobcats guard Ben Gordon (8) during the first half of the game at Time Warner Cable Arena. Mandatory Credit: Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports /

One player achieves the difficult measure of being underrated and  overrated at the same time.  Nick Young, born and bred in Southern California, found a niche he’s comfortable with.  Unfortunately for his charisma and reputation, he’s been considered a shot-lover and questionable talent.  The Los Angeles Lakers are happy to place him on their payroll, for better or worse.

Searching any locker room for soft-spoken, respectable players, you wouldn’t hesitate to write Young’s name on your list.

The self-induced nickname of “Swaggy P” gives off a vibe that he’s confident he owns a superstar’s game.  In professional sports, giving yourself such a nickname, or having peers grant you one (The Black Mamba), usually pertains to the top players in the sport’s sphere.  Young, who’s bounced around with four teams in his seven years in the NBA, is far from a first tier star.  In fact, he’s been a victim of the media to the point where he’s viewed as a role player, or even one of the many “jokes” of the year.

Los Angeles Lakers
Sep 28, 2013; El Segundo, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers shooting guard Nick Young (0) is interviewed during media day at the Lakers Training Facility. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports /

For the first time in Young’s career, he was launched into a system where he was a part of an historical team, without any All-Stars to lead him, or show him the way.  While the Los Angeles Clippers wouldn’t classify as an historical franchise since they’ve yet to win any NBA titles, he was still able to play alongside the dynamics of “Lob City,” and a group of talent that was destined for the playoffs each year.

There, it’s where Young’s name became known.  In Washington — the four seasons prior his Clippers stint — Young was a side-note to a major story with the team.  It even includes his greatest statistical season, where he averaged 17.4 points per game on a rather efficient 44.1 percent shooting.  With Swaggy’s repertoire, that does equal efficiency.

Transferring jobs once again after a down season in the city hosting the tank-a-thon (Philadelphia), Young had a chance of a lifetime.  He entered 2013 free agency with one goal in mind — to receive an offer from the team he put so much stock into throughout his childhood.  Sure, he’d been given the opportunity to play in Hollywood before, where his character, humor, and fashion could shine along with his play-style.

But, he was never able to throw on a gold jersey, and showcase for the team he grew up idolizing.  For Young, as well as new teammate Julius Randle, it was more than just the team they found themselves enjoying.  It was their veteran leader, who’s been with the franchise for 19 years.  Playing with Kobe Bryant, to them, was just as significant to the dream as entering the practice facility in El Segundo for the first time.

Last season became a bit of a backfire for the Lakers, however, losing their Batman and experiencing the most injury-plagued season in team history.  Soon enough, it had to be the best of both worlds for Young; he now had the keys to be the primary scorer, all while enjoying where he was making a living.  He entered the superstar role for the Lakers, which is something you can dream for years and years to achieve, and come up short.

Under Vinny Del Negro and a rotation with Chris Paul and/or Eric Bledsoe, Young grew into a player that thrived off the ball.  Having to make the switch from being a spot-up wing threat to being relied on late in games off the dribble is a harder adjustment than people acknowledge.

Since Steve Nash was basically in a wheelchair for 67 games throughout the season, Young didn’t have the luxury of playing with a battle-tested point guard that he grew fond of with the Clippers:

While Mitch Kupchak did call up pass-first sensation Kendall Marshall from the D-League, there wasn’t anyone that’s had more experience than Young running the backcourt.  That’s especially the truth when you throw in Kobe’s knee break, and Jordan Farmar‘s unlucky hamstrings.

Whether he believes he’s another version of Bryant or not, he still serves as a piece you would love to have in those transition situations during a game, or even in a halfcourt setting.

When playing in the same lineup with someone who’s going to harness all the attention and make defenses collapse in the paint, offense becomes easier, and it eliminates the flair from having to do things off the dribble.  In Young’s case, matters get less “swaggy,” and more fluid:

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In a land of talent that’s predicated on screen rolls, aggressive post play, and point guard slashing (Clippers), there’s a ridiculous amount of kick-out opportunities for their shooters.  Doc Rivers has already started to get these results from the roster he’s been handed, but Del Negro’s unit was just as effective with their spacing and penetration.

Mike D’Antoni, former coach of the Lakers, was on record numerous times during 2013-14 stating that offensive fluidity should come naturally.  He doesn’t believe in running certain sets or plays most of the time, or having a design in place to get his scoring.  The players have the freedom, for the most part, in how they move the ball around the perimeter and create a lot of motion.

That’s where Young was forced to step in and take control, as he was trusted to make the right decisions, pull the quick trigger (even if it wasn’t always the greatest shot), and lead the 3-point attack.

Instead of playing off the ball, or even with a moderate combination in his style, Young led the Lakers in pull-up shot attempts for the season, taking 384 (six per game).  It was well above Jodie Meeks, who attempted the second-most at 193.  Of all the Lakers that attempted at least four per game, Young was the most efficient, drilling 38.8 percent of those looks.

From the area Young admires the most (beyond the arc), no other Laker attempted the most triples in “pull-up” fashion, which is defined as taking at least one dribble before the attempt.  He was 36.1 percent effective in those situations, placing second on the roster.

Being the initiator of the offense isn’t something we aim for Young to do on a team battling for a playoff berth, but it’s what he enjoys.  He’s also not entirely as horrid at it as people perceive him to be.  It’s just not going to escape our minds that we would rather see Young being an escape route for one or two major options, such as a Bryant and Pau Gasol duo.  That never had a chance to form.

When it was crunch time for Los Angeles last season, there were special plays ran for Young to get off a clean look, playing off the ball:

Wanting to play similar to his new mentor (Kobe) late in the game, Young gained a lot of attention for his heroics in Chicago last January.  A crafty way to get him a baseline jumper became one of the team’s inbound sets.  Young would start the play at the left elbow, letting a guard (Meeks) cut from the corner to receive the inbound pass.  Gasol, who Joakim Noah didn’t want to leave open for a free throw line jumper, would screen Young’s man just enough for him to receive a pass in motion — toward the baseline.

From there, it’s all about creating space and getting balanced.  Both of those are two things Young has that are always overlooked.

At times, nonetheless, he would get carried away with being the No. 1 scoring option.  Shot selection was a wild battle for him to fight through during the first three quarters of a game, and that’s putting it mildly.  Forcing attempts incredibly early in possessions became a problem, but teammates weren’t at liberty to care:

The core of the Lakers (minus Gasol) is back intact, and it makes it a subtle joke to just say those words.  Kobe Bryant (36) and Steve Nash (40) can’t be your only cornerstones for a playoff contender.  Not in 2014, and not in the Western Conference.  However, they’ll be starting in the backcourt, and have the ball in their hands this time around.  Byron Scott also faces the dilemma of having a No. 7 overall draft pick to tailor to the pro style.  Ultimately, Julius Randle becomes the most important aspect alone.  If he’s going to be slated for the future of the Lakers franchise, why limit his opportunities and learning growth right away?  You don’t.

That’s only three players who enter the mix, opposed to last season’s wacky Lakers rotation.  Are we believing Nick Young, of all people, is going to have the same major impact and role as a scorer this time around?  There’s not a chance.  His Usage Percentage reached a career-high last season at 26.8, with also a max in True Shooting Percentage at 56.4 percent.  His days as the offensive leader for the Lakers have come and gone quickly, but he can say he had a satisfying run with those 27-win Lakers.

It should never be forgotten, though, that Swaggy P could walk right back into the type of icon he’s determined to be.  After all, the Lakers thought locking him up for four more years under contract would be wise.  By then, the roster will be washed clean of what it includes now.

Perhaps not being publicly recognized as a game-changer, or dynamic player is okay with Young.  He gets to play next season behind the shadows of a returning snake, and stand next to a girlfriend that brings enough attention on her own.

**All statistical support credited to Basketball-Reference.com, and NBA.com/Stats**