Editor’s Note: For as long as the NBA season is stopped, we’ll be taking a look back at players from Lakers history that we can’t stop thinking about. Today, we remember Nick Young.
The 2013-14 season was one of big change for the Los Angeles Lakers. Not only did they lose Dwight Howard to the Houston Rockets in free agency, but they opened their regular season without their star shooting guard, Kobe Bryant, for the first time since 2006 due to the devastating achilles injury he suffered the season prior.
Bryant returned to the starting lineup on the 20th game of the regular season, and, to much surprise, they were a game above. 500. The surprise wasn’t just that the Lakers managed to stay afloat without Bryant, though — it was the players they were doing it with.
The Lakers technically had two other All-Star caliber players on their roster — Steve Nash and Pau Gasol — but Nash played sparsely due to a multitude of injuries, including a chronic back injury, and Gasol was having trouble adjusting to Mike D’Antoni’s fast-paced system. Combined Nash, Bryant and Gasol took up $58.9 million of the $58.7 million salary cap, so the Lakers had to fill out the rest of their roster with minimum players on one-year, make-good deals.
A few of those players started the season off on the right foot, including Xaxier Henry and Wesley Johnson — two lottery picks that didn’t live up to their draft hype while on their rookie contract — but none of them made the impression on Lakers fans the way Nick Young did.
Young, a native of Los Angeles who played college ball at USC before being taken No. 16 overall in the 2007 NBA Draft, signed a one-year veteran’s minimum contract with the Lakers in the summer of 2013. Young showed promise in his first six seasons in the NBA, but concerns over his commitment to the game of basketball and ability to play within a system cost him money as an unrestricted free agent in 2013.
Young was hardly any different when he signed with the Lakers, but his ability to create his own shot and knock down open 3-pointers was a breath of fresh air on a team full of young and unpolished players. Young’s shot creation became even more crucial to the team when Bryant suffered a season-ending knee injury in his sixth game back from his achilles injury.
With Bryant sidelined, Young didn’t slide into the starting lineup, but he did step into the role as the Lakers’ No. 1 option on offense, for better or worse. During the 2013-14 season, Young had a usage percentage 26.3%, which was the highest usage percentage on the team that season and is the highest of his career to date. For context, John Wall posted a usage percentage of 26.7% and James Harden posted a usage percentage of 27% that season that season.
Young obviously wasn’t an All-Star like Wall or Harden, but he played with the confidence of one, and that’s what made him such a beloved figure in Los Angeles — from the 3-point celebrations, to the isolation possessions in crunch time. As far as Young was concerned, he was a star, and on some nights, he’d look like one on the court too.
Through 64 appearances for the Lakers during the 2013-14 season, Young averaged 17.9 points per game on 43.5% shooting from the field, including 38.6% shooting from behind the arc, while averaging 28.3 minutes per game. Per 36 minutes, he averaged 22.8 points per game. If the Lakers were a better team, he would have been a Sixth Man of the Year candidate.
Some of Young’s most memorable moments with the Lakers came in his three following seasons with the team, but “Swaggy P” rose to prominence during the 2013-14 season, when Lakers fans needed something to cheer about. Since then, he’s been a symbol of the team’s rebuilding years, both the good and the bad.
For that reason, Young is a Laker worth appreciating.