Common wisdom holds that less is more for most NBA players, but Nick Young isn’t most NBA players. Coming into the season, it wasn’t even clear Young would be on an NBA roster this year.
Yes, it’s now become mandatory to mention just how unlikely Young’s career resurgence as a valuable role player for the Los Angeles Lakers this season is in almost every single thing written or said about him. Even his head coach is doing it.
“I’ve been saying it all year long since training camp: the guy went from the bottom of the depth chart to the starting two at the start of the season and he’s been great for us,” Walton told reporters on Spectrum Sportsnet following the Lakers’ loss to the Toronto Raptors on Sunday night.
Young has made himself great in part due to his renewed defensive effort and willingness to pass the ball, but the biggest key to his importance to the Lakers has been his transformation into one of the NBA’s best (and highest volume) three-point shooters.
I can hear you thinking now: “SMH, just another dumb Lakers blogger trying to overrate their players.” But this isn’t hyperbole. Young is not only having the best three-point shooting season of his career, he’s having the best stretch of literally any Laker ever:
The 35 total 3’s hit by @NickSwagyPYoung since Dec. 17 are a franchise record for an 8-game stretch.— Mike Trudell (@LakersReporter) January 2, 2017
The numbers are staggering. Young is shooting 56.3 percent from behind the arc during the Lakers’ last eight games, and he’s only been marginally “worse” on the year, making a team-best 42.8 percent of his three-pointers.
That 42.8 percent is the best mark of Young’s career as well as the fourth-best percentage in the entire NBA (among players to attempt more than 160 threes so far). This “Splash Cousin” has also outshot Golden State’s “Splash Brothers”, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, without another comparable three-point threat on the floor to tilt defenses away (Lou Williams has the second-best success rate on the team among guys to play more than 200 minutes at 36.8 percent).
Making his shooting even more impressive is that Young is doing so while firing the most threes he’s ever attempted both per game (6.7) and per-36 minutes (9.2).
So how is Young shooting so much better despite shooting way more? Instead of desperately searching for his shot using the insane off-the-dribble stepbacks and 360-degree airball layups that characterized his early career, Young is letting the Lakers’ offense find him.
“What I’m really proud of is that a lot of his shots are coming, or he’s letting them come, in the flow of the game,” Walton said. “Every once in a while he feels hot like all shooters do, they want to just get the ball off their hands and up, but his stuff’s coming out of DHO’s [dribble hand-offs] and whatnot.
“He’s really doing his best to play within the team, and as a team we know he’s a great scorer and shooter so we’re going to look for him and try to get him shots,” Walton continued. “But he doesn’t seem to be forcing too many of the shots we don’t like.”
Young is barely forcing anything. The 31-year-old is living proof that you can teach an old dog new tricks, averaging the second-most points per game of his career (14.2) on his second-lowest usage rate (19.3). Almost all of Young’s threes have been assisted (93.3 percent), up over 10 percent from last season (80.5 percent).
It’s led to easily the most efficient shooting season of Young’s career. In addition to the aforementioned career-best three-point shooting, Young’s true shooting percentage (which takes into account the added value of threes and free throws) of 63.1 percent is by far the best of his career, with his magical year under Mike D’Antoni coming in a distant second at 56.4 percent.
With the Lakers playing less competitive and fun basketball than they did to start the season, Young’s status as a feel-good story in the NBA’s second-largest market doesn’t come as close to guaranteeing him a spot in a three-point shooting contest as it seemingly would have when the team was playing .500 ball. Still, Young’s scorching shooting (not to mention his fun personality) should be more than enough to get him into the All-Star weekend shooting exhibition.
Whether he gets in or not, Young himself (uncharacteristically) doesn’t appear to be set to sing his own praises or publicly campaign for a spot.
“I don’t know, just been working. I don’t want to jinx myself,” Young said when asked to explain his shooting success on Sunday night. “It’s a blessing it’s going in.”
It’s a blessing the Lakers’ surely hope will continue as they head into the New Year and try to recapture their early season success.
All stats per NBA.com. and Basketball-Reference.com. All quotes transcribed via Spectrum Sportsnet. Harrison Faigen is co-host of the Locked on Lakers podcast (subscribe here), and you can follow him on Twitter at @hmfaigen.