Below is the sixth in a series previewing the story lines surrounding each player on the Lakers’ roster for the 2014-15 season. This post focuses on Lakers forward Nick Young.
1. Will Nick Young start? The tea leaves, as revealed recently by Lakers coach Byron Scott, suggested that Wesley Johnson has the edge at the starting small forward spot over Young. There are plenty of reasons. Johnson’s athleticism and defensive potential could complement an experienced albeit slow-trodden starting lineup. Young’s knack for scoring could spark energy off the bench. But it seems Scott has dangled out his thought process as a carrot to motivate his players and fuel a healthy competition during training camp and beyond.
Regardless of Young’s eventual spot on the Lakers’ depth chart, he should use training camp as an opportunity to prove he will build off of a promising season in which he averaging a team-leading 17.8 points, showed more hunger in developing and kept everyone usually in positive spirits.
2. How will Young mesh with Kobe Bryant? For all the gushing he has shown about Bryant’s legacy, his game-winning shots and shoes, Young still lacks clarity on how he will play with Bryant. OK, so Young actually averaged 17.16 points per game on 43.4 percent shooting during Bryant’s six-game stretch last season, which nearly mirrored Young’s season output (17.9 points on 43.5 percent shooting). But Bryant played relatively limited minutes during his six-game stretch before injuring his left knee. Bryant also shook off a layer of rust in each game he played following an eight-month absence while healing his left Achilles tendon.
How will Young adjust when Bryant enters this season presumably much healthier, playing more minutes and carrying a larger workload? No personality conflicts will emerge. Young has idolized Bryant. No one is debating Bryant should and will take the majority of the team’s shots. But for a player accustomed toward scoring on a rapid clip, both Young and Bryant will have to adjust. Young will have to impact the game by creating open looks for him off the ball, while hustling on defense. Bryant will need to depend on Young’s scoring ability to ease up looks off double teams.
But how long will that adjustment period take? Perhaps longer than it takes for Young to sing Bryant’s praises.
3. Could Young become sixth man of the year? Assuming Scott sticks with his plan to feature Young as a reserve, Young will likely revel in the possibility about winning this award. He spoke about it plenty last season before the Lakers soon derailed amid a stretch filled with endless injuries and double-digit blowouts. It might prove challenging for Young to win this award since such honors go toward players on winning teams, something the general public largely expects will not describe the Lakers’ fortunes this season. But on his skillset alone, Young should become a top candidate.
This carrot could yield some unintended consequences. Will this added motivation help spur Young toward improvement? Or will this entice Young to worry more about stuffing his own box score than helping the team win? It seems Young usually has the right intentions, but the award could become a temptation he will have to guard against.
4. Will Young play defense? Nothing excited Young more than when he drew a game-saving charge in November on Detroit forward Josh Smith. Young took the first step toward changing his reputation as a player who treated defense as a time to save energy before scoring the next basket. No one will mistake Young as a defensive candidate of the year candidate, but he showed plenty of signs beyond his game-saving charge that he has treated defense with more seriousness.
Will Young keep that up this season? Scott sure hopes so and has already demanded as much. Considering Young’s thirst for growth, it appears he will embrace this role even more. But it seems likely he will still have to fine-tune concepts, ranging from sharpening his preparation, on-court reaction and team communication.
5. Swaggy P will keep it entertaining. Amid a season that could yield another missed playoff appearance and more uncertainty about their long-term rebuilding, there is at least one thing that seems certain. Young will keep things fun. Beyond his on-court performance, Young will make fans and reporters laughing and smiling along the way, ranging from his fashionable wardrobe, funny quotes, playful trash talking and genuine excitement about playing for his hometown team. Young’s personality should go a long way in keeping the team loose and fun through both the good and the bad.