What the Lakers need from Nick Young

Daniel Rapaport —  October 22, 2013

When the Lakers signed Nick Young to a 2-year, $2.3 million deal, it seemed like a bargain for the purple (blue) and gold. Young is a solid 6-foot-6, is just 28-years old, has hometown ties (he grew up in the San Fernando Valley), and has shown the ability to score the basketball at each of his three previous stops around the league. Over his 6-year career, Young has a rather impressive per-36 scoring average of 17.7 points and can provide a spark off the bench with his ability to create his own shot.

Nick Young, however, is one of the most reluctant passers in modern NBA history, and that’s why he was available for such a relatively low price.

He’s talented, sure. But a trip to the always-informative Basketball Reference¬†doesn’t do the small forward any favors. For his career, Young is averaging 9.7 shots per contest and exactly one assist per game. One. At one point during the 2010 season, SwaggyP was treading in historically bad waters; through December of that season, he was averaging 20.4 points and .9 assists per-36 minutes. In the history of the NBA, only six players who averaged more than 25 minutes a game (Young qualified) have EVER averaged over 20 points and under 1 assist per-36, and none of them were guards: Yao Ming, Alonzo Mourning, Chris Gatling, Bailey Howell, Eddy Curry, and Mike Mitchell (thank you to TruthAboutIt for this incredible stat). While he did his best Steve Nash impression in the second half of that year and did successfully raise that per-36 assist average to 1.3, the main point of this presentation is that Nick Young has one of the quickest triggers in the history of the NBA and is perhaps the purest gunner playing today.

It’s time for Nick Young to mature. And here’s where the Nick Young bashing parade stops, because hell, I’ve been impressed with Noodles (his nickname at USC, which I thought was one of the better nicknames out there; gonna stick with this one) this preseason. Sure, he’s had his gunner moments and Nick Young is still doing Nick Young things; in a 97-88 loss to the Denver Nuggets, he went 4-16 for 9 points and-you guessed it-the big goose egg in the assist column. But in the three games following that setback, he went a combined 17-33 for 45 points and 7 (!!!) assists. I may be optimistic and this might be wishful thinking (the sample size is unthinkably small and yes, it is PREseason), but I’m hoping this a sign of the maturity that Young so desperately needs.

Not to say that I don’t want Noodles to come off the bench and become instant offense, because that’s exactly what the Lakers need from him. It’s precisely why he’s the only one of the Lakers’ offseason signees who received a multi-year deal (Young has a player option for the 2014-15 season). Mitch envisions Young as a Jarrett Jack, James-Harden-on-OKC type player who can rack up points against second-team defenses. But those guys know when to pick their spots, when it was time for them to call for an Iso or to involve their teammates. In order for Noodles to have success with this new-look Lakers squad, he’ll need to find that balance-and find it quickly, especially in the however many games he’ll start at the two before a certain number twenty-four returns to the court. This Laker team will rely on ball-movement and spacing to create offense during Kobe’s absence, and Young’s ball-stopping tendencies simply don’t fit with the D’Antoni way.

When Kobe does return, I’m looking forward to seeing how MDA decides to use these two together, if at-all. Surely, Kobe has a similar score-first mentality and having two perimeter players with that mindset hasn’t worked out too well historically for NBA franchises. But at age 28, and reduced to a humbling contract of barely more than $1 million per season, I’m hoping-praying- that Young will finally “get it” and come to the realization that his gunning ways haven’t yielded any All-Star nods and have made him an expendable commodity in the NBA.

In recent years, Kobe hasn’t had a true scorer who can play on the opposite wing, and he can surely benefit from another capable shooter to stretch the floor and alleviate some of the pressure from perimeter defenders that he’s so accustomed to.¬†When you watch Nick Young play, it’s clear that he has all the natural talent to be that guy. It doesn’t take long to notice his natural scoring prowess- he has that J.R. Smith-like ability to make contested shots and create for himself off the dribble. If he can harness this talent and heed D’Antoni’s advice, he can become a spark plug off the bench for the Lakers and might even get the chance to stick around past this limbo-ey transitional period.

What a giant if.

Daniel Rapaport