Below is the fourth in a series previewing the storylines surrounding each player on the Lakers’ roster for the 2013-14 season.
1. Nick Young will score in bunches. No longer will the Lakers have to fret about Young lighting them up with a series of fast-break layups, fadeaways and shots through numerous double teams. The USC and Cleveland High product, who’s torched the Lakers by an average of 25 points per game on 48.7% shooting in his six-year career, will likely provide the same qualities wearing purple and gold. The Lakers sure need it.
Should Kobe Bryant not return right away from a torn left Achilles tendon, Young will start in his place. And though none can match Bryant’s scoring touch, but Young has mentality needed at least to mitigate that absence. Even with Bryant in the lineup, the Lakers yearn for Young’s secondary scoring for multiple reasons. That presence will space the floor both for Bryant and the Lakers’ big men (Pau Gasol, Chris Kaman). It will relieve the burden for Bryant to carry the team and allow him to add more as an on-ball defender. Young’s slashing ability could also create open three-point shots for perimeter players, such as Steve Nash, Jodie Meeks and Steve Blake. Young has played mostly shooting guard during his career, but his size and athleticism make the Lakers optimistic he can play at small forward. Should Young prove the Lakers right, they will have more opportunities to mix up various lineup combinations.
Considering his proven track record, Young will hardly become bashful in fulfilling his normal job description under Staples Center’s bright lights. Instead, Young will thrive under them.
2. Young will need to find a balance in quickening the Lakers’ tempo.The Lakers are still considered an old team, what with Nash (39), Bryant (35) and Gasol (32) remaining the team’s marquee players. That reality makes Young’s arrival a welcome one considering the Lakers lacked players in recent seasons capable of scoring off fast-break points. But this comes with a warning sign.
Yes, Young should find opportunities when to increase the tempo. But he can’t operate at full speed all the time or else the Lakers’ gas tank will quickly fall to empty. Instead, Young should find a balance. Push the tempo after a rebound or a steal. Slow it down when operating in the halfcourt. Push the tempo when Young plays with a quicker lineup (Blake, Wesley Johnson, Jordan Farmar). Slow it down when he’s playing with an older one (Bryant, Gasol, Nash, Kaman). Push the tempo when he sees the defense off balance. Slow it down when teammates appear organized defensively. How Young finds that balance will play a large part in whether the Lakers’ offense runs smoothly.
3. Will Young play any defense? There are very few times in a game Young plays much of defense. And though the 28-year-old guard’s capable of growing as a player, it’s a far fetch to believe he’ll suddenly become an elite defender. It also doesn’t help that D’Antoni’s system hasn’t yielded a strong defensive reputation. The Lakers want Young to score. But with the team already loaded with so much offensive talent, Young adding more on defense will carve him out a bigger role on the team.
4. How will Young mesh with Kobe Bryant? Young grew up admiring the Lakers star, and the Black Mamba admires Swaggy P’s fearless attitude. But it’s inevitable that Young’s high-volume shooting will annoy Bryant, namely because it means he won’t have the ball. Young talks a good game in saying he won’t back down from Bryant’s demands and will still look to score. But as with everything, Young needs to find a balance.
Bryant still should have the ball in his hands most of the time. Yet, Young needs to back up his tough talk and stand up to Bryant when he has a good shot. How Bryant and Young sort this dynamic out might depend on each possession. If Young’s navigating double teams, Bryant (or any other teammate) should have the ball. If Young has an open look, he should take it. Should Young find that balance, Bryant will have more respect for his new teammate. Hence, the roles will become cleared and the pair will become more difficult to stop.
5. Young should bring positive energy Don’t get it twisted. Young didn’t sign with the Lakers at the veteran’s minimum so he could wax nostalgic on returning to his hometown. He said this summer he joined them primariliy because he was assured of a significant role, unlike in past seasons. But through his infectious smile, fashionable clothing and his hometown roots, Young obviously wants to be here. And for a team that has lacked much of a positive locker room vibe in recent seasons, Young could infuse some enthusiasm into the veteran’s squad.
Such a mindset could mitigate the dropoff in talent the Lakers suffered this offseason with Howard’s departure as well as waiving Metta World Peace and not re-signing Earl Clark and Antawn Jamison. Should the Lakers find more joy on the court, it’s likely they’ll prove more amenable to role changes and respond better to adversity.
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org