Biggest Improvements Nick Young Must Make to Thrive with LA Lakers

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Biggest Improvements Nick Young Must Make to Thrive with LA Lakers
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Lakers should be excited to have a player like Nick Young on the roster, but that doesn't mean he's the perfect fit for the team right now. In fact, there are three primary adjustments that Swaggy P has to make if he's going to thrive while calling the Staples Center home.

Last year, the 28-year-old shooting guard averaged 10.6 points, 2.2 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game during his one and only season with the Philadelphia 76ers.

But this offseason brought about a lot of change.

Young will be wearing purple and gold, and he'll also be spending quite a bit of time at small forward. According to 82games.com, he played only three percent of the available minutes at the 3 in Philly, and that number is about to skyrocket once the Lake Show tries pairing him and Kobe Bryant together.  

However, Young's position and jersey can't be the only things to change.

He has to adjust his style as well. 

 

What is this passing thing?

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Spor
Young was presumably just asked about passing.

I can just imagine Nick Young being shown the assists column on an NBA box score and acting like The Little Mermaid's Ariel when she looked at a fork for the first time. It would just open up a whole new world (whoops, mixing Disney similes and metaphors) of intriguing possibilities, alerting him to the existence of a previously foreign concept. 

In other words, I'm not convinced that Young understands what an assist is. At least, that's the impression he's left with his play ever since entering the Association out of USC. 

The shooting guard averaged 2.1 dimes per 36 minutes in 2012-13, and that was a career-high. To put that in perspective, Al-Farouq Aminu and Corey Brewer, two swingmen known for their non-offensive skills, averaged more per-minute assists. 

Things get even worse when you look at Young's assist percentage. It gives the percentage of field goals made by teammates that were assisted by the player in question when he was on the court. 

In 2012-13, Young posted a 9.7 assist percentage, shockingly the best mark of his career. 

Young's breakdown of assisted and unassisted field goals is on top, but any guesses who the bottom pie graph belongs to? 

I'll give you a hint: It's a certain shooting guard on the Lakers roster who is rehabbing a torn Achilles. 

That's right, the assist percentage of a player commonly called a ballhog just leaves Young's in the dust. And then some. 

Swaggy P doesn't need to improve his passing skills; he just has to be willing to use them, especially now that he'll be playing for a team that requires spreading the ball around. This isn't the Philadelphia 76ers all over again.

Young isn't going to be the No. 1 option when he's on the court. 

So far, things are looking good in this department. 

Young was actually told by Mike D'Antoni that he was passing too much during L.A.'s informal workouts, according to the Los Angeles Daily News' Mark Medina. When I read that, my jaw hit the floor. 

Now we'll see if that attitude carries over to actual games. True to form, Young recorded a grand total of zero dimes in the Lakers' preseason opener, although he had to have more of a gunslinger's mentality in Kobe Bryant's absence. 

The goose eggs can't be too plentiful during the regular season. 

 

More three-pointers

Noah Graham/Getty Images

The D'Antoni offensive system revolves around lots and lots of three-pointers.

According to Basketball-Reference, only the New York Knicks, Houston Rockets and Miami Heat made more triples during the 2012-13 season.

The first two are just in a class of their own, but something tells me the Lakers would have surpassed the Heat (who beat them by two) had they not been forced to wade through the Mike Brown and Bernie Bickerstaff eras.  

Making shots from beyond the arc is of paramount importance to this team, and that means that Young has to start doing so with more frequency. 

Throughout his final season with the Sixers, Young made 35.7 percent of his looks from downtown, and he lofted up 3.6 tries per game. Hardly an elite combination. 

In fact, 52 other players met or exceeded that mark, including guys like Ben Gordon, Brandon Knight, Steve Blake, C.J. Miles and Randy Foye. 

Young is clearly a good three-point shooter, but he's not a great one. And that has to change if he's going to become a standout player in purple and gold. 

To remedy the situation, Young has to get more comfortable working without the ball in his hands.

He's a fantastic isolation player, and Synergy Sports (subscription required) reveals that he shot 60 percent on three-pointers in iso situations. But it's a different story when he spots up. 

Swaggy P scored 1.06 points per possession—the No. 95 mark in the NBA—when he spotted up, but he struggled (relatively) from downtown. The shooting guard hit only 35.3 percent of his attempts, and that mark has to go up rather significantly if he hopes to become an elite marksman.

You're going to see Young end up in situations like this quite often now that he's with the Lakers.

Kobe and Pau Gasol drew far more defensive attention than anyone on Philadelphia's roster last year ever did, so Young is going to be forgotten about in the corner with much higher frequency.

He just has to make the shots, not clang them off the rim as he does following the situation depicted up above.

Finding the bottom of the net is the surest way to carve out a role in D'Antoni's offense.  

 

Cut more 

Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

Young isn't going to have the ball in his hands as much during the 2013-14 campaign. If his usage rate is in the 20s, I'd be rather surprised, even though last year's 21.2 was the lowest mark of his career. 

As a result, the shooting guard is going to have to develop more off-ball skills. And I'm not just talking about the spot-up shooting proficiency that we discussed above. 

Instead, I'm referring to movement. 

Throughout the entire 2012-13 season, Young finished a play off a cut to the basket just 12 times. Over the course of 59 games, that was it. For those of you without a calculator, that means he used an off-ball cut to finish a play once every five games, which is a pretty unacceptable rate. 

And what makes the situation even worse is that Young was a competent cutter.

He displayed good instincts and fakes throughout the year and shot 4-of-11 from the field, drawing a foul on the 12th possession. 

Let's take a look at the one that drew contact. 

Spencer Hawes is playing the Pau Gasol role here. He's a skilled big man who can feed the ball into tight spaces. 

And with Young isolated against Andre Miller, this is looking like a positive development for Philly. 

Young fakes toward the ball.

And all it takes is a quick spin. He breaks free, leaving Miller in the dust. All of the point guard's basketball acumen can't help him now. 

With a wide open lane to the hoop, Young drives and eventually gets fouled before he can make it to the rim. 

This is the type of play that the shooting guard must commit to with a lot more frequency. As one of my good friends would say, it's time for him to "change his paradigm." 

Young isn't part of a superstar-less team anymore (and no offense to Jrue Holiday, but he still didn't quite qualify as a superstar). He's going to be playing alongside Kobe and Gasol, and that means quite a bit less dominance of the rock. 

What is Young's ceiling with the Lakers?

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Instead of functioning as an isolation scorer who thrived when he could shoot in volume, Swaggy P has to become a little less, well, swaggy. Instead, he must tailor his game so that it meshes perfectly with his teammates' playing styles and helps the Lakers become a cohesive unit. 

That means shooting the rock more in off-ball situations and actually learning how to pass. 

If Young can do so, the Lakers will be in great shape to exceed the low expectations set before them heading into 2013-14. 

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