After two inefficient seasons coupled with a feud with D’Angelo Russell, it appeared odds were better that Nick Young would be cut than make the Los Angeles Lakers’ final roster, with the organization paying him to play for another team if they failed to find a trade (they were never going to find a trade).
Young was all but left for dead heading into training camp, a reality he seemed more than aware of.
"They counted me out!” Young told Mark Medina of the L.A. Daily News shortly after it was confirmed he would make the Lakers regular season roster. “I was like the hand out of the grave. I'm still here!"
More so than the fact he’s he’s still here, the reasons why the Lakers kept Young around are even more surprising. The team has been using him as a defensive “stopper” (or at least “sacrificial offering”) of sorts against their opponents’ best players. That role has put Young into the starting lineup, but it’s also tanked his on-off numbers because he’s usually facing down the other team’s top option.
Those metrics aside, Young has been good for Los Angeles, and just as unexpected as Young finding his way onto the roster for defense is the way he’s been able to be effective on the other end of the floor. Rather than the ball-pounding black hole Young was the last two seasons, Young has found effectiveness as an off-ball weapon for the Lakers.
Not only is Young using less possessions for the Lakers than he did the past two seasons (posting a usage rate of 17.7 percent after using 18.8 percent of the Lakers’ plays last year while he was on the floor, and 25.7 percent the year before), but the way he’s getting his shots has shifted.
Instead of pounding the ball into oblivion, the Lakers are asking Young to shift into an off the ball threat. This new role was on full display in the team’s win over the Atlanta Hawks, where Young did most of his damage without even using his dribble:
Young leaking out in transition after a hard contest to get a dunk, Young spotting up for threes, and Young celebrating his resurrection. The Lakers saw all of it in Atlanta to the tune of 17 points on 54.5 percent shooting against the Hawk, and those have been the types of looks Young has been generating all year.
It has all led to Young leading the Lakers in catch-and-shoot attempts with 4.8 per game, according to NBA.com. That’s an increase from his averages of 2.9 last season and 2.6 the year before. Young’s current number of catch-and-shoots are much closer to the four per game he took under Mike D’Antoni in 2013-14, which was probably not entirely coincidentally the best offensive season of his career.
Young is shooting 37.5 percent from three-point range on catch-and-shoot jumpers for an effective field goal percentage of 56.3 percent this year, the fourth highest rate on the team on that shot type. It’s still early, but those are more than solid numbers considering how many he’s taking.
For his entire career, Young has mostly been known as a goofy ball hog with a tendency to pull-up with no conscience. He’s still firing away with little thought and no regrets, but the types of shots the team has him taking have brought him back from the grave and made his game a guilt-free pleasure for the Lakers.