Young has always been an intriguing talent by virtue of his offensive skills, but the Purple and Gold will need him to take his game to new heights.
Bryant is recovering from offseason Achilles surgery, and the Lakers ownership group is hoping he will be ready by opening night. However, in the event the two-time Finals MVP is not ready to go, there will be a different set of expectations set on Young.
Thus, we will look at both scenarios.
Healthy Kobe Bryant on Opening Night
When glancing at the Lakers roster, it immediately sticks out that the team has no small forwards. Consequently, that means Kobe Bryant will likely start at this spot while Nick Young will operate as the 2-guard on the opening five-man unit.
Steve Nash and Bryant will assume most of the ball-handling duties, which means that Young will be in the lineup to put up points. The former University of South California Trojan loves to get shots up, as evidenced by his career 15.2 field-goal attempts per 36 minutes.
As a reference point, Tony Parker averages 15 shots per 36 minutes for his career. What is interesting about Young’s willingness to put the ball up is the slow pace at which most of his teams have played during his career.
Only the 2010-11 and 2011-12 Washington Wizards were amongst the top 10 fastest shooting teams in the league. Every other squad Young has played for operated at a fairly slow pace.
Historically, D’Antoni’s teams have been in the top five in this category, and Young will probably love it given his skill set. He is a very good ball-handler as well as a solid shooter judging from his 37.4 percent career three-point percentage.
Alongside Nash and Bryant, his job will be to connect on spot-up jumpers and break down defenders when his teammates attract attention and allow him to function in a one-on-one setting.
Synergy Sports tells us Young converted 46.9 percent of his shots in isolation situations in 2012-13, and he might actually attempt more than the mere 64 field goals he shot in this setting with Philadelphia in 2012-13.
Young loves showing off his handles and then transitioning to the step-back jumper. D’Antoni will probably be a fan of this move, considering the new Laker made 18 of his 23 (78.3 percent) such shots in 2012-13, per NBA.com.
Step-back jumpers are notoriously difficult because defenders still contest the shot. Hence, one might assume Young’s marksmanship on this front was a fluke. However, in the two prior seasons, he converted 10 of his 14 (71.4 percent) step-back shot attempts.
Young should feel right at home in the Laker offense because it will highlight his skills. He will be given multiple opportunities to get shots off and will be encouraged to push the tempo and seek transition shots where he is incredibly efficient.
Have a look at his shot chart for pull-up jumpers in 2012-13, courtesy of NBA.com:
Young was very effective in these situations because he obtained open looks in rhythm. He typically gets himself in trouble with his shot selection in the half court because he gets caught up in the moment against his defender.
Out in transition, though, he can take the ball to the basket or simply bring it up the floor and pull up from whatever spot suits him. Between Nash, Bryant and Pau Gasol attracting defenders, Young’s offensive game will flourish.
The former Los Angeles Clipper will have to make very few minimal adjustments to his game on this side of the ball in 2013-14. However, the Lakers will need Young to play the best defense of his career in Los Angeles.
Metta World Peace was amnestied during the 2013 offseason, and his departure stripped the Purple and Gold of its best perimeter defender. Bryant’s defensive brilliance was already a thing of the past prior to his Achilles tear, and it stands to reason, he will no longer be asked to guard the opposition’s best player given his age and health.
That puts the burden on Young. Nash and company will require the swingman to pick up the likes of James Harden, Kevin Durant and Paul George to name a few. The new Laker is not exactly what one would call a stopper, and that will not be the expectation going forward.
The coaching staff will need for Young to hold his own against the league’s best. That means keeping guys fairly close to their averages instead of surrendering big nights.
The Lakers 2-guard will have to play disciplined defense and be on high alert at all times. He cannot get caught ball watching or fail to compete on this end. The "Lake Show" will not compete for a postseason berth if Young simply gets torched on a night-to-night basis.
No Kobe Bryant on Opening Night
In the event Bryant is not ready to go by opening night and for a fairly large stretch of the 2013-14 regular season, the Lakers will need Young to play a role incredibly different from the one he has played during his career.
He will be tasked with scoring, ball-handling and setting up teammates. Furthermore, the coaching staff will ask him to defend certain great perimeter players on occasion if others are struggling with the assignment.
Essentially, Mike D’Antoni will ask Young to make an impersonation of the 2004-05 version of Joe Johnson that played with the Phoenix Suns. To be fair though, Johnson was by default the team’s backup point guard, but that will not be part of Young’s job description.
The Los Angeles Lakers have a very good starting point guard and also a capable reserve in Steve Blake. Consequently, Young will not have a large amount of ball-handling duties, but his help on this front is still important.
The swingman can bring the ball up against pressure and also use his skills to get to spots on the floor where he can hit open teammates. He is a serviceable pick-and-roll player, provided he is not looking to shoot the ball.
The Lakers will use him in this setting occasionally to get their big people some open looks. Watch below as Young feeds Lavoy Allen for an open jumper during the 2012-13 season:
In this second clip, Amir Johnson of the Toronto Raptors blitzes Young in the pick-and-roll and the ball-handler counters by creating a passing angle where he feeds Thaddeus Young for a score:
The Los Angeles native is a dangerous pick-and-roll player especially if he is scoring in a particular game. It forces defenses to pay attention to him and send extra defenders, which frees up his teammates.
The other side of the spectrum is when Young is having an average night by his standards in terms of scoring the ball. That means he is missing most of his shot attempts and consequently defenses are playing off him and daring him to make shots.
It is in this setting that he becomes somewhat of a liability in the screen-and-roll game. Indeed, Synergy Sports tells us Young only converted 35.7 percent of his field-goal attempts in the pick-and-roll action in 2012-13, which speaks to his poor shot selection.
Watch him try to break down the Atlanta Hawks during the 2012-13 campaign in the pick-and-roll:
The jumper is a decent look, but had he been a little more patient, he could have created a driving lane or hit Spencer Hawes for an open jumper. The next video, though, is the Swaggy P experience in a nutshell:
Young comes off the screen looking to shoot ball, but fails to account for Carlos Boozer’s ability to contest his shot as well as Marco Belinelli’s recovery speed. The end result is a low-percentage shot, something that happened regularly when Young was put in this position.
Consequently, the Lakers are better off waiting for Young to make shots and then start running pick-and-rolls with him. That way, he forces extra defenders to account for him and opens up the floor for teammates.
If D’Antoni simply opts to put Young in pick-and-rolls without establishing his scoring prowess early in games, the Lakers will be in danger of him shooting the team out of contests.
Again, with Bryant missing time, Young will be a big part of the offense, and it will be important for him to put up points efficiently and get other players involved. The Lakers can have him do these things while keeping him in his comfort zone.
Still, it is incumbent upon Young to make great decisions with the ball in his hands. On defense, the coaching staff will probably dial back the guard’s responsibilities with Bryant out because he will be the best wing scorer on the team.
D’Antoni will likely have Young focus on his offense and slowly adjust his role, as it pertains to his defense based on Bryant’s availability.
An improved Young will give the Lakers a dimension they sorely need, and it might just be enough to get them into the 2014 playoffs.