One player has taken pride in coming off the bench and scoring in bunches. Another player has felt the same. One has done it consistently enough last season to win the NBA’s sixth man of the year award. The other player failed to do it consistently enough that the Lakers could not to find any suitors to trade him.
That leads to one question that could define the Lakers’ bench identity. When Lou Williams and Nick Young are playing together, who will shoot the ball?
“Whoever has it,” Williams joked, prompting plenty of laughter on Wednesday at his introductory press conference at the Lakers’ practice facility in El Segundo.
Yes, Williams and Young have cemented reputations as looking to score first, pass second and defend never. Before signing a three-year deal worth $21 million with the Lakers this offseason, Williams has averaged 11.9 points and 2.9 assists through his 10-year NBA career with stops in Philadelphia (2005-12), Atlanta (2012-14) and Toronto (2014-15). Young has averaged 12.3 points and 1.1 assists through his 8-year NBA career with stints in Washington (2007-12), the Clippers (2012), Philadelphia (2012-13) and the Lakers (2013-present).
Yet, Williams expressed optimism he and Young will co-exist. The Lakers plan to bring Williams off the bench as a shooting guard, while Young will play as a reserve small forward. Williams also cited his past experience teaming with other high-volume scorers, including Allen Iverson.
“I’ve played in systems with multiple guards where we had two or three guards on the court at the same time,” said Williams, who will also share scoring duties with Kobe Bryant. “The most important thing is to not pin Nick and I against each other. We’re teammates now. We both have similar games. We both like to score the basketball, that’s been one of our strong suits. That’s what we hang our hats on. But once we’re on the court, I like to play team basketball. If I’m in an iso situation, that when I try to score the ball. Other than that, I just try to make plays whether it’s for myself or my teammates.”
The mere competition between Young and Williams may force each other to change their game.
Although the Lakers intend to keep Young to open the 2015-16 season, a possibility still looms that he could become a chip leading into the trade deadline. Young also clashed frequently with coach Byron Scott, with issues ranging from his inconsistency, playful demeanor and playing time. Young’s ability to diversify his game on defense and moving off the ball could determine if his partnership with Scott improves.
Meanwhile, Williams tried to shake off any misconceptions about his game.
Williams averaged only 2.1 assists in his lone season in Toronto in what marked his lowest numbers since his second year in the NBA. But he said that reflected partly on the Raptors featuring plenty of isolation sets. He stressed he has “embraced” a bench role that he has played for most of his NBA career. Though he admitted his defensive weaknesses, Williams argued he could enhance the Lakers’ efforts to improve in that area after finishing last season 29th out of 30 NBA teams in total points allowed.
“Obviously my role has been scoring over the years. But on the defensive end, I do everything I can to help our team,” Williams said. “Everybody is not going to be able to score the basketball the way I would be able to score. But I’m sure there will be a system in place to help the personnel on the other end. I look forward to any challenge. I never backed down from a challenge. I’ve always tried to stop guys on the defensive end even though it’s not my strong suit. But it’s not one of the worst things on the court for me to be on the floor when it’s time to win a basketball game.”
And when that moment comes, Williams downplayed any problems when Young shares that floor. Even if both seem inclined to score first, Williams stressed he will not think that way.
“I’ve always been a guy that just prided on making plays,” Williams said. “Two points is two points. I never really cared if they were mine or somebody else’s.”