Welcome back to our series at FB&G where we take one player on the Lakers’ roster and discuss one specific skill they possess. Sometimes it will be something very subtle, others it will be more straight forward. We’ll try to shed some light on how this skill can help the team in the coming season. Our previous entries can be found here. Today we look at Nick Young’s three point shooting.
There may not be a Lakers player who endeared himself to fans and then fell out of their good graces as quickly as Nick Young has. Coming off a summer that saw Dwight Howard depart in free agency, Young provided a season that saw him bring a fun energy and above expectations production while exuding his “love of being a Laker”. Fans ate it up.
Then came last season where a questionable contract, clashes with the coach and nagging injuries led to a dip in production, and it turned those initial feelings of joy sour. It got to the point where there were strong rumblings the team was trying to trade him while signing/drafting players that could be seen as redundant to his role. Add in Mitch Kupchak going on the record that Young had to “make our coach happy” and it’s not hard to wonder how Young fits in at all, much less how he can help the team with a (mostly) one-note skill set.
Yet, when reviewing the Lakers’ 1st preseason game, Young was again a staple of the team’s reserve unit and even earned the starting nod in the 2nd half when Kobe sat out to rest. Young did several things well during the game, including working hard defensively and making several good passes, one of which was a heads up read where he noticed the defense wasn’t organized and he threw a lob pass to Tarik Black who hit a nifty left handed hook.
Young taking forward strides by doing more of the little things will certainly put him back in the good graces of his coach. It will also likely lead to stability in his role and with playing time. But, let’s be honest, regardless of what Young does as a passer or a defender, those will always be secondary to what Young is really in the league for: getting buckets.
For the purpose of helping the Lakers, however, it’s not just Nick scoring points is his ability to get them from behind the arc. Over Young’s 8 year career he’s been a 37.6% shooter from three point territory. Four times he has shot over 38% from distance, including twice where he shot 40% or better. He’s not your classic marksman by any means, but these marks are above the league average (last year the league average was 35% and it typically hovers around 35 – 36%) and he’s eclipsing that number every single year.
Here are his three point shot charts from his two seasons with the Lakers (the left is 2013-14, the right is last season):
Again, this isn’t spectacular shooting (though his numbers from the corners do stand out as being very good). What these numbers do represent, however, is a very good success rate at an NBA shot which is only increasing in importance to every NBA offense. People can make all the Byron Scott jokes they want, but in the Lakers’ preseason opener the team shot 9 three pointers in the first quarter and 23 of them for the game. They’re going to take these shots.
And when they do, it’s going to be important that they fall at an above average rate if the team wants to be anywhere close to an offense ranking in the top half of the league. Nick Young, for all his flaws as a player, can help in this area. Stash him in the corner during a P&R set and, if he’s on the strong side, he may be able to keep his defender attached enough where the ball handler can get that extra step into the lane. Put him on the weak side and skip passes or quick swings will generate open looks in a spot where he’s proven to be dangerous.
It’s not just out of the P&R, either. As a trailer on the break, spotting up when any number of the team’s attack players are working in isolation off the dribble or out of the post, or when he’s working as the primary ball handler looking for his own shot, Young can knock this shot down.
There’s caveats to all this, of course. Young has a way of drifting within any given possession, mucking up the spacing, and letting the defense off the hook. His shot selection can range from “that’s okay” to “what in the world is Nick Young doing”, with the latter being a too frequent occurrence. His work off the dribble needs to be more disciplined because when it’s not, he can torpedo a set to the point where a dead ball turnover is a more desired result.
These are just the things you have to live with when Young is on the team you root for. He will never be a perfect player. No where close, really. But there’s usefulness in his three point shooting and if he can knock down 38% – 40% of those shots this season (which wouldn’t be out of the ordinary for his career), I might just be okay living with some of the head scratching moments. The shot and the implications of that type of success rate is simply too valuable.