After spending the majority of the 2015-16 campaign entrapped in Byron Scott’s doghouse, Lakers swingman Nick Young has used basketball’s prelude to the regular season to prove he’s still a serviceable scoring option for Los Angeles.
Young’s hoops temperament, which is to chuck mercilessly at times and play little to no defense, coupled with the D’Angelo Russell video scandal, left Young’s relationship with Scott and the team fractured even further, and many assumed his tenure with the Lakers was sure to conclude via trade or release.
But Young has seemingly mended things to a workable level with Russell (they don’t have to be friends off the court to play well together just as Russell stated during Media Day this year) and so far this preseason he’s been one of the more impressive pupils in the School of Luke Walton.
If practice has been the lectures and the games have been the test, then Young is loitering around that high low-A, high-B area, which exceeds the expectations anyone had laid out for Young going into the Lakers’ eight-game preseason slate.
Through seven preseason games played, Young is third on the team in scoring at 13.2 points per game, trailing only Russell (17.9) and Jordan Clarkson (14).
This may not be impressive for a player that has been synonymous with scoring speedily during his ten-year career, but trying to paint a picture of Young this preseason with just metrics would be unfair to him.
Young has approached the offensive end in a much more reserved and meticulous fashion, ditching the often miffing one-on-one theatrics to abide by what Walton is attempting to instill in Los Angeles: ball-movement, spacing and harmony. With this, Young has been placed in positions on the floor to help him succeed.
He’s usually been flanked by a few playmakers to limit his duties of having to initiate the offense, and with this Young has been able to move without the ball, dodge defenders with the help of a teammates screen, or catch-and-shoot, which are all quick-thinking scoring scenarios tailored perfectly for him.
Walton and Young have forged a relationship rooted in understanding.
Walton recognizes what he has in Young: a streaky scorer who can provide his team with a huge offensive boost if his energy is harnessed the correct way. Young knows that he’s skating swaggily on thin ice with the Lakers organization, and that if he wants to breach into the rotation he’ll have to do whatever Walton asks, which includes playing defense.
“You have a coach that is telling you to shoot the ball and has confidence in you,” Young said. “All he wants you to do is play defense and do whatever you want on offense. That gives yourself a lot of confidence.” -Young
Young has beckoned to the call, and has made a noticeable effort to heighten his awareness on defense and to make more of an impact on that side of the ball. He’s been seen fighting over screens, scrapping for loose balls and rummaging for rebounds in the paint.
He’s shooting blistery percentages (54.9% from the field and 54.3% from three), and after registering a 19-point, 7-13 shooting performance against the basketball version of the Justice League Golden State Warriors, Walton sang Young’s praises to the media.
Luke Walton calls Nick Young (19 pts) one of LA's best players this preseason: "He was messing with Kevin Durant tonight. That's not easy."
— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) October 20, 2016
It’s appearing as if Young, who thrilled in his first year as a Laker, is rediscovering some of that bravado and it’s being noticed by his coach. It’s not out of the realm of possibility to see Young slotted as the starting small forward on opening night against the Rockets.
What becomes critical now is Young sustaining this new-found focus and not reverting back to his old ways once an ample amount of playing time is secured.
Right now for the Lakers this is the feel-good story of the postseason. We now hope that the tale continues in this tone as we roll into the real thing next week.