The Los Angeles Lakers' brand was pronounced dead two years ago. Nick Young's career was pronounced dead two months ago. Tuesday night, both entities showed everyone that reports of their demise were greatly exaggerated.
Young decided he needed to tone down the jester act and shore up the defense. The result has been a spot in the rotation on an NBA team — something few saw coming over the summer.
The Lakers decided it was time for a complete overhaul in culture. The result has been one of the most exciting and surprising starts in the entire league.
Yes, Swaggy P needed the Lakers a whole lot more than vice versa, but as we’ve seen from the first 15 games of this season, having a reinvigorated player with Young’s talent level and charisma around is a lot more useful than four million dollars of sunk cost would have been. He’s turned himself into the Lakers’ best perimeter defender while finding the shooting ability he showed under Mike D’Antoni that earned him the aforementioned contract fans and idiots named Anthony Irwin alike we all too ready to shed.
Get ready for a statement no one could have possibly seen coming before this season started: The Lakers would not be where they are today without Nick Young. And where they are today, on November 23, with the same record as the Oklahoma City Thunder, is absolutely astonishing.
We’ve all seen the video by now. Nick wanders aimlessly around the perimeter, winds up in the lane of a pass intended instead for Lou Williams,
maybe travels catches the ball in his left, turns and hits the go-ahead basket with five seconds left. And this after chasing Russell Westbrook all over the court for 29 minutes. And after the game, his focus was still on defense.
“Yeah, I think they should give me a steal for that.”
Only Nick, and only these Lakers. Funny thing is: That play encapsulated this Lakers campaign pretty damn perfectly.
The Lakers somehow led for the vast majority of the game against a pretty easily superior Oklahoma City Thunder roster. In the final moments, it looked like Westbrook would once again show why it’s so important to have a superstar in the NBA, at one point pulling ahead before that fateful Nick Young “steal”.
Remaining in the game to that point would have been enough, honestly. The Thunder are a playoff contender, and Lakers were playing with an ailing Julius Randle and without D’Angelo Russell altogether. They’d already lost to the Thunder at full strength earlier this season. The moral victory would have been frustrating seeing as they had led for so long, but there was solace to be taken. Instead, however, they somehow pulled through, and once again proved their doubters wrong.
The same can be said about Young before that play. He’d already had a strong game on both ends of the court. His image continues to be revitalized in ways many didn’t think possible. Hell, he wasn’t even supposed to be in that spot on the court he found himself. Yet there he was, and here are these Lakers.
Don’t let this fun start to the 2016-2017 campaign start distract you from how disastrous the last two seasons were. The Lakers still hired Byron Scott. They kept him around to appease Kobe Bryant, who was making nearly $50 million while being one of the worst players in the NBA. They let Bryant remain priorities one through you-name-it even while the future of their franchise was right there, waiting to be developed. It was a comedy of errors, really, that turned out okay because those mistakes led to those aforementioned draft picks.
With all that said, let’s look at play one last time. There are parallels to be made.
First, Williams was in on a play that called for the best defensive lineup the Lakers could offer. Part of this had to do with Russell being hurt and Luol Deng moving like an extra from “The Walking Dead”, but Timofey Mozgov definitely could’ve helped on the offensive rebound and the Lakers wanted to switch everything. So at least there’s something of an explanation for the decision.
Then, well, this happened.
The play started decently enough. They went with a weave to get the kind of matchup they’d prefer, eventually getting to Brandon Ingram on the wing, with enough time to either make a move for himself or find someone else who could create something. That person, however, is not pictured while Ingram throws his pass. Oh, and then there’s Young, who is cutting across the court for reasons unknown, which doesn’t help spacing.
Basically, the seeds were planted, but a string of hilarious errors led to what we’re looking at above. Sound familiar? Williams playing on a defensive possession seems like something Byron might’ve done. Ingram passing to someone even though that player might not be in the picture seems like the kind of occurrence we would’ve seen with Kobe on the court late in a game. Nick Young running around aimlessly seems like, well, something Nick Young would do.
And yet, even with all that going on, Young found the ball with a great look at a game-winning shot over a team many considered objectively better heading into this season. Things worked out for everyone. Process matters, obviously, but the NBA is a results business. Sure, the Lakers might’ve Mr. Magoo’ed their way to this spot, but that shouldn’t take away from how exciting Tuesday night and this year has been.
Luke Walton emphasized blank slates when he took over — an idea that only works if it’s taken advantage of.
So far, Young has done exactly that. On Tuesday he simultaneously rewarded Walton’s faith and served reminder of how much Young and the Lakers need each other.