A rejuvenated Kobe Bryant is coming back to play another NBA season. That places a limit on the number of touches Nick Young will have in ‘14-‘15 compared to last season, which could be a reason Young is having a ball off the court in the meantime. His latest perk involves having rookies Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson address him as “Daddy Swag” — that’s no misprint, and knowing Nick Young, how could it be?
He sure has taken over the entertainment role for the Los Angeles Lakers. He is sweetening up Hollywood and may be the team’s best reality TV-product since Shaq-and-Kobe in the early 2000s. Nick is not shy when it comes to the spotlight. That can be backed up by his expressed desire for female hip-hop star Iggy Azalea.
However, it is unnecessary to only associate Swaggy P with public entertainment in L.A. Young has quietly been around a while, going into his eighth year in the league and playing for his fourth team. Young spent the first four and a half years of his career in Washington, where he was mostly a scorer off the bench and a complement to Gilbert Arenas. The ‘10-‘11 campaign was one of Young’s most efficient seasons, as he averaged 17.4 points while shooting a respectable 44 percent from the field.
After spending brief periods of time with the Sixers and the Clippers, Young found his niche with the depressed Laker franchise in 2014. Regardless of how strong the team’s roster was, or wasn’t, Young fit the bill as an uptempo player — a scorer who is deadly when on and one-dimensional when off, a credit to his lacking effort on the defensive end. But Bryant and the Lakers see value in Young, both on and off the court, going forward. Jim Buss rewarded Swaggy P with a reasonable $21.5 million over the next four years.
Nick Young truly has great scoring ability, but he has failed to prove, thus far, he can be the type of player capable of averaging 25-plus points every night. If Young took 20 shots a game and played 40 minutes, I bet he could average 25. But his consistency is what has held him back from being among the top scorers in the NBA. As a defender, it is pretty predictable what Young wants to do — Daddy Swag wants to get the ball and shoot, and maybe take a few dribbles here and there. When Young gets cold, he goes ice cold and seems to lose some of his otherwise braggadocious confidence.
For example, last season he averaged 14.6 points on a miserable 35.6 percent shooting against his division. But against the rest of the conference, he averaged 17 points on 44.5 percent shooting. In five games between January 7-15, Young put up the following: two points on 1-for-7 shooting; 25 points on 10-for-20 shooting; 11 points on 3-for-14 shooting; 28 points on 7-for-16 shooting; and nine points on 4-for-8 shooting before a minor injury forced him to sit out the remainder of that game. In other words, he’s up then down then up then down again.
All that aside, Young must be more assertive on the defensive end this year. Defense is half of the game, and up until this point in his career, his team’s have not been able to trust him as a legitimate No. 1 option because they cannot rely on him to defend 35-40 minutes a game. If you aren’t a willing and somewhat hardworking defender, the value you bring to your team diminishes, and it’s not like Young doesn’t have the athletic ability to be at least a decent defender.
The Lakers needYoung to step up his defensive intensity this year. 36-year-old Kobe Bryant is returning from two major injuries, including a torn achilles as well as a fractured knee. Bryant used to be the best perimeter defender on the Lakers — this has been a declining part of his game, however, for multiple seasons — and will still be expected to be adequate at defending his position if only by nature. The Lakers have holes all over their defense — Steve Nash is, if not totally done, on his very last legs; Jeremy Lin struggles to guard opposing point guards; Carlos Boozer is Carlos Boozer; and as promising a rookie as Julius Randle is, post defense is seen as his main weakness.
That leaves Young without any excuses. The best five-man units for Los Angeles include Young at small forward sandwiched between a historically grim collection of NBA defenders. He is going to be tasked with guarding the Kevin Durant’s and Carmelo Anthony’s of the world for the purple-and-gold — something he is physically capable of, sure, but not anything he has ever shown he can do on the court.
Young is an ideal blend of charismatic self-marketing and God-given ability to score the basketball for this flawed and mediocre Lakers team. The organization decided it was in its best interest to finally give Young a permanent home, but how much of that was circumstantial? (How many other NBA-caliber starting wings were knocking on their door this off-season?) The Lakers are in the midst of a civil war between the Clippers for who is the best team in Los Angeles, but even with Bryant back in the starting lineup, the purple-and-gold are completely and utterly behind the red-and-white in talent, coaching and team chemistry. The Clippers were a couple bounces of the ball and a giant public relations nightmare away from a run to the conference finals; the Lakers seem poised for another losing record, as their roster is a collection of dusty veterans and all-offense, no-defense guards taped together with short-term deals.
And yet, Bryant isn’t going to stand for losing basketball, not after watching a painful 55-loss campaign from the bench. Bryant probably knows this roster can’t win a championship as is, but that won’t stop him from demanding excellence from his new teammates — insisting on playing above expectations and refusing to roll over against the loaded West.
To do that, the Lakers will need Young to showcase his talent in front of the Staples crowd. It was one of the few positives from last season, and can work in ‘14-‘15 if he plays wiser and more consistently than ever before. Whether or not Young accepts this challenge will be a theme for the Lakers’ season, as Swaggy P will play a crucial role in their questionable future.
Zach Tennen (@ZTennen11) is a staff writer for The High Screen and a senior at the University of Arizona.