Coming into this season, his 3rd with the Lakers, Nick Young was put on notice. He ended his second season with the team firmly in Byron Scott’s doghouse and the only way out of it was to no longer play like Nick Young. Scott said he wanted Young to play better defense, to exercise more discretion offensively, and to be a more serious player. If he did these things, he might see more playing time. If he didn’t, well, the wood has a way of speaking to a player, as this coach is fond of saying.
So, what did young do? He tried to improve in the areas the coach asked him to. At the start of the year was often seen trying on defense and taking less crazy shots in isolation. While he wasn’t a playmaker, he was more willing to move the ball and resembled more of the player he was under Mike D’Antoni; more of the player who the Lakers thought they were keeping on when he resigned after his first with team.
It turns out, though, that really didn’t last. Since the first 10-15 games of the season, Young’s shooting has fallen off, his effort on defense has been spotty, and he has fallen into the trap of looking for his own shot — especially when working in isolation. A tiger doesn’t change its stripes, after all.
This type of play, combined with the mounting losses, led Byron Scott to effectively make Young a bit player. He’d see minutes when Kobe sat out or in blowouts, but his role as a rotation player was handed over to Anthony Brown.
In the month of January, Brown became a lineup fixture. He started when Kobe sat out and backed up #24 at SF when (Kobe) was in the lineup. Brown appeared in every January contest except the last one, on January 31st, against the Hornets. That game versus Charlotte Brown received a DNP-CD. Young, meanwhile, was back playing the role he did to start the season: Kobe’s back up at SF, logging 25 minutes in the process.
What changed? I don’t know for sure, but a day earlier, on January 30th, ESPN’s Marc Stein reported the following (emphasis mine):
Denver is making no secret of veteran forward JJ Hickson’s availability. Ditto for the Los Angeles Lakers and a number of veterans on their roster: Roy Hibbert, Brandon Bass, Nick Young and Lou Williams. We should note, however, that Hibbert possesses the only expiring contract in that quartet. Bass holds a $3.1 million player option for next season. . . .
Now, maybe Byron decided he was going to switch up his rotation again and bring Young back while sitting Brown. I don’t recall Byron making one of his “a change is coming” announcements which typically accompany this type of switch, however. Also, while Brown wasn’t setting the world on fire before his return to DNP-CD purgatory, the Lakers had performed well with Brown in the lineup in January*.
Young, meanwhile, is who he is. He will offer some hot shooting nights, can be a neutral/only a somewhat negative defender when fully engaged and trying hard (which is not too often), and can ensure a half-court set doesn’t die without a shot attempt when the clock is winding down. He has a totally different skill set than Brown — a catch and shoot, 3 and D wing — but one that is redundant with, well, nearly every other wing on the Lakers’ roster not named…Anthony Brown.
So, since I’m a Where in the World is Carmen San Diego super-sleuth mood, I can only assume Young is back in the lineup to get some minutes and prove that he’s a viable trade target. One could argue the timing of Stein’s report and Young’s insertion back into the rotation at the expense of Brown is a coincidence, but I’m not going to fully believe that even if (when?) someone refutes that.
The trading deadline is February 18th and Young was put back in the lineup on January 31st. At that point, the Lakers would have had 6 more games (now 4) before the trade deadline. The last Lakers’ game before the deadline is on February 10th. My guess is Young has until then to find a comfort zone as a rotation player because when the Lakers are back in action on February 19th I imagine Young will either be on another team or back on the bench in favor of Anthony Brown.
*In January, Brown averaged 5 points and 3 rebounds a game. He did, however, shoot 34.9% from behind the arc on nearly 3 attempts per game. What stood out during this month most, though, was how the Lakers, as a team, performed when Brown was in the game versus when he sat. In the 398 minutes Brown played that month, the Lakers were +7.9 points better offensively and +10.7 points better defensively, per 100 possessions, when Brown played. The team’s -1.9 efficiency differential while he was in the game was best on the team of any rotation player and the only player whose differential was under -3.5. Not all of this is attributed to Brown, of course. But these numbers also can’t just be ignored, even if the sample isn’t huge. Especially since they mirror trends we have discussed previously.