When thinking of a player you would compare Nick Young to, who comes to mind? It's probably a bench gunner with zero conscience, right? Not if you're his Los Angeles Lakers teammates.
“We keep calling him Bruce Bowen, the Glove (Gary Payton), Kawhi [Leonard] and all those guys,” said Larry Nance Jr. after the team’s practice on Saturday. “In the same breath you can say all those guys and Nick Young.
“It’s kind of a team joke, but it’s fun because he’s been picking it up, he’s really been getting after it and it’s fun to see that.”
When told of Nance Jr.’s comparison, Lakers head coach Luke Walton said he remained unconvinced Young can be mentioned in the same breath as those players.
“I told him he shoots like Tony Allen,” Walton cracked. “I don’t know if he defends like Tony Allen.”
All kidding aside, Walton acknowledged how vital Young had been to the team defensively (no, you read that correctly, it wasn’t a typo or a return-of-basketball-induced fever dream).
“He’s earned playing time. He’s been phenomenal throughout training camp and preseason games,” Walton said. “I think we all know he’ll score the ball, but the thing that I’ve said has been most impressive is the way he’s been defending people.”
This isn’t just a case of a coach pumping up a player’s trade value in the media. Young actually has been great for the Lakers on defense. He’s put forth far more effort on that end of the floor, and used his length and athleticism to effectively neuter other team’s wing scorers at times.
Don’t take my word for it, though. Friend of the site Pete Zayas of Laker Film Room recently broke down how Young has been effective on defense in his latest video. The whole thing is worth a watch, but arguably the most impressive sequence was Young sticking with Klay Thompson and then bothering his off-balance floater to force a miss:
Or remaining glued to Kevin Durant to force him to give up the ball:
He hasn’t been perfect. While Young’s individual defense has been fairly stellar, he’s still prone to hurting the Lakers with slow help rotations:
Young is likely never going to be a perfect defender, but he’s been far better on that end than Lou Williams so far. If the Lakers are positive they don’t want to go with Jordan Clarkson as their starting shooting guard, Young may be better able to help them reach their team goals this year.
“There are certain check marks we’re looking for,” Nance Jr. said of how the team hopes to improve. “Obviously we don’t want to be last defensively again. Preferably top-15 would be wonderful.”
Against all odds and reasonable expectations, Young may be a player that can help the Lakers get there. Who knows? Maybe he can finally get that Defensive Player of the Year Award he’s been gunning for.
Nick Young: "I might win MVP or try to go for 6th man of the year or most improved or defensive player of the year. I got robbed last year."— Arash Markazi (@ArashMarkazi) September 30, 2014
All quotes transcribed via Lakers.com. You can follow this author on Twitter at @hmfaigen.