Editor’s Note: This is the first entry in our #LakersRank series, in which our writers got together and ranked the value each member of the Lakers will bring to the court this year. We’ll be counting these down for the next several weeks, so stay tuned.
#14. Nick Young
Average rank: 13.9
No surprises here. For many reasons, the voting panel projected Nick Young as the least valuable player for the 2016-2017 Los Angeles Lakers.
On the court: The statline that Nick Young produced in 2015-2016 straddles the fine line between comical and tragic: In 19 minutes per game he shot 33.9 percent from the field, 32.5 percent from three-point range — good for 7.3 points and 0.6 assists per game. While he leveraged his possibly his career best year in 2013-2014 into a four-year, $21.5 million contract, he hasn’t come close to justifying it. A shooter who’s not really a shooter is possibly the worst player archetype in the NBA today. Nick Young is just that.
Off the court: Now, to address the Snapchat elephant in the room: Assessing fault and blame, and analyzing the effect the D’Angelo Russell "incident" had on Nick Young’s personal life is irrelevant in this discussion — the aftermath, however, is. It is telling that the "immature" 19-20 year old rookie handled himself with much more poise and maintained his professionalism than Nick Young, 11 years his senior.
The Salary Cap: Nick Young is still due $11 million over the next two seasons (provided he picks up his player option on the second year, which is expected) that as of today reflect as dead cap room to a Lakers team that suddenly is more financially strapped after years of hoarding cap space. If the Lakers decide to stretch Nick Young’s contract by the August 31st deadline it would cost approximately $2.2 million in dead cap money for the next five years — not particularly damaging, but still not ideal. Additionally, while the salary cap may have jumped this offseason and has another spike next summer, based on Young’s projected production over the next two years, his contract is still a liability. This makes trading him difficult and will likely require the Lakers to attach an asset such as a draft pick to convince another team to take Swaggy on.
The Case for Improvement: While Nick Young had a terrible campaign last season, so did pretty much every player on the roster. With a new coaching staff, respected veteran additions in Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov, and restored professional culture and optimism, it’s possible that Nick Young can be salvaged as a Laker. Luke Walton can design the right plays for Young to get more open shots, and with proper motion sets, create better passing opportunities for him to become more than a one-dimensional player.
Projection: I continue to believe that Nick Young will not be on the Lakers roster on opening night. The front office and newly appointed coaching staff have invested too much (namely the Deng and Mozgov contracts) trying to implement a strong locker room culture to risk it with a player as inconsequential as Nick Young. If the Lakers do indeed decide to keep Young, it will be because they don’t want to lose the assets required to trade him or accept a cap hit for the next five years as a result of stretching him.
In that case, I can’t see Young getting real minutes ahead of players like Lou Williams, a superior player in all respects, or any of the young core that the Lakers are looking to develop. Either via trade, stretch provision or lack of minutes, at this moment it is fair to say that Nick Young’s value to this team has hit rock bottom.