The signing of Nick Young by the Lakers this summer was quizzical to say the least. With needs far more obvious and glaring elsewhere, most notably at small forward, Young filled none of those needs. Last season, Young spent just 3% of the total 76ers minutes at small forward. Despite spending more time at the small forward position in past seasons, it’s not his natural position. With Kobe Bryant, Jodie Meeks, Steve Blake, and Steve Nash already at the guards positions, bringing in Young seemed to make little sense.
On the other hand, Young agreed to come to Los Angeles on a huge discount just to play for the Lakers. When a player of his caliber comes to you willing to take a discount, it’s hard to say no. And Young can provide lots of scoring, whether it be off the bench or in the starting lineup. For quite possibly the first time in his career, Bryant won’t be seen as the lone perimeter scorer. There are surely to be some issues (and death stares) with Young’s shot selection, which he happily brings upon himself. Defining what role Young will have with the Lakers is a little harder, however.
To get an idea of what to expect from Nick Young, we must first look at what his predecessor’s, Metta World Peace in this case, role was in the offense. Lakers fans will certainly remember MWP’s three-point struggles, shooting 34.2% from three last year. At times, even that seemed like an unrealistically high figure. 413 of MWP’s shots last year were from three-point land, with 410 coming from beyond the line. Of the 413 threes, 161 of those were from the corner, his second most common three point attempted. While Artest shot 37.8% from that area, it still wasn’t a very efficient amount. Even more, 96.8% of his corner threes were assisted, while 82.3% of his threes above the “break” were assisted. To put it plainly, MWP did not create many scoring opportunities for himself.
Still, regardless if MWP was assisted or not, he did not score at an efficient level in any way, shape, or form. When looking at his shot chart, only three areas are green, signifying “hot zones.” Those three zones comprise of just 50 field goal attempts of his 824 total shots attempted.
The scariest part? This season was MWP’s best season in Los Angeles in terms of points per game, rebounds, and just slightly worse field goal percentage and three-point percentage. While we may have loved MWP for his antics both on and off the court, the Lakers needed an upgrade at the position.
Enter Nick Young. Young certainly has a different skill set than MWP, but will be put into the same role. First, we can look at how and where Young shot last season with his shot chart.
In total, Young chucked up 542 field goals, his second fewest of his career. While he was injured, his 9.2 shots per game ranked as his third highest amount and fewer shots on average than MWP’s 11.0 attempts a game. If you take a look at his shot chart, however, his shots didn’t come from the same areas as MWP. If you take a look at World Peace’s chart, he was mediocre all over the court save for near the rim/paint. Young, however, was very hit or miss, struggling from the corners and mid-range, but exceeding at the rim and from the three above the “break”.
This isn’t where the differences stop. Young was assisted on just 155 of his shots last year, over 60 less than MWP. Of MWP’s unassisted shots, 68.7% came at the rim, showing his preference for close to the basket, physical style of play. For Young, only 27% of his unassisted shots came at the rim, with the rest spread out in the mid-range area. This doesn’t tell us anything we didn’t know, further proving he’s a shooter who excels at taking mid-range shots.
What does this mean for his time in LA? Well, as been said before, Young gives the Lakers an option that they haven’t had in the Kobe Bryant era: another play-making perimeter scorer. He’ll certainly still get shots as a spot-up shooter, but Young was just 35.3% as a spot-up three-point shooter, which is only small percentage points better than World Peace’s 34.9%. But Young shot an efficient 46.9% on isolation players last year, far better than MWP’s 34.5% clip.
In the end, it’s evident the Lakers are getting a totally different player than MWP. Young is more of a ball-dominant player who can create his own shot, two traits that do not describe World Peace. In a year where the Lakers will need other players to replace Bryant’s scoring load early, Young makes perfect sense as a signing. He can replicate Bryant’s play style (for better or worse) while giving the Lakers another scoring option when Bryant returns. Now whether Bryant and Young mesh together offensively is an entirely different article, and one I’m sure we’ll have to address in the future.