Nick Young is quickly becoming Exhibit A in the case of those who argue the value for players to want to play in a big market. The ever ebullient man known as "Swaggy P" has become one of Los Angeles' favorite sons over the last year and a half. He is dating a Grammy nominated musician and just got the Sports Illustrated profile treatment. It's unquestionably a good time to be Nick Young, unless he is on the basketball court.
After performing at a career-best level last season on Mike D'Antoni's Lakers team, Young may have flown too close to the sun, and now, like Icarus, is crashing back to earth for a messy landing. If Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson are the Splash Brothers, Nick Young has been leader of the Clank Clan for the Lakers, and is taking 11.4 shots per game while shooting 28.9% from the field, 22% on threes, for 12.5 ppg in his last ten games. Those numbers are so ugly my computer started shrieking as I typed them in.
I, like many Lakers fans, have grown to love Swaggy and all of his antics since he joined the team That being said, this slump is getting to the point where it needs to be asked if the Lakers overpaid by giving him around $21 million over 4 years (the last year is a player option that would seem likely to be picked up). With the salary cap projected to skyrocket, this deal could end up being anywhere from a relative bargain to a hilarious overpay depending on if Young begins to bounce back, but as anyone who understands basic economics will tell you, paying for something at its probable value ceiling (as Nick Young definitely was this summer) rarely helps you turn a profit (and I mean a profit in basketball terms in this case). Halfway through one season is too soon to judge a contract (even the Pistons waited over a season before cutting Josh Smith), but this fall off is enough to be worrying.
Can Swaggy return to playing at the level he was at in '13-14? The way he has been utilized under Byron Scott thus far, there is reason to doubt. As many prognosticated before the season, the joyous Lakers ball movement of last year has died a horrible death. The reason Young was so effective last year had a lot to do with off-ball movement, jetting off of screens for easy cuts and threes. The numbers bear this out, with Young's percentage of assisted field goals dropping from 58.7 percent to 45.6 percent, and his field goal percentage dropping from 43.5 percent to 36.9 percent.
This is not to say that Nick Young is the main problem with the Lakers this season. With a defense so bad that it is considered progress just to no longer be historically putrid on that end, the Lakeshow were never going to compete for much this year whether the front office let Young go or paid him a max contract. With Swaggy earning his other nickname of "Bean Burrito" this season (look it up on his basketball reference page) and stinking up the room upon his insertion, it's fair to question whether his inclusion on the roster for two-to-three more years can be a part of the solution. If not, that multi-year deal that looked like a fair bargain for a player that performed like a legitimate Sixth Man of the Year candidate may be another problem the front office has to figure out.