The regular season is still months off, but it’s not too soon to wonder how new Los Angeles Lakers coach Byron Scott will utilize key players. One of those is the irrepressible Nick “Swaggy P” Young.
It’s not only a question for the upcoming season but well beyond, with Young recently signing a new four-year, $21.5 million deal that makes him an integral part of the team’s future.
The question of how Scott will best maximize any player’s utility is straightforward enough, but one doesn’t usually associate Young with anything of a utilitarian nature. An effervescent free spirit and celebrator of all shots made, most certainly, but not a guy who typically comes to mind when talking sage strategy.
Scott himself has a keen appreciation for the subtleties of “doing what Swaggy P do,” as evidenced by a particular appearance with James Worthy on the Lakers' TMC SportsNet channel this past season.
But while Scott offered up a spot-on impersonation as an analyst, he’ll be getting down to brass tacks as the team’s new head coach.
And it will not be anything akin to the light touch and score-first free-spiritedness of his predecessor, Mike D’Antoni. Young himself is well-aware that the winds of change are on their way.
Nick Young on Byron Scott: "When I think Byron, I think it's going to be tough. He's a hard nosed type of coach." (on @ESPNLA710)— Serena Winters (@SerenaWinters) July 31, 2014
Change is good when you’re coming off the worst loss record in Lakers history.
As an assistant coach under Rick Adelman for the Sacramento Kings, Scott learned the intricacies of the Princeton offense. He used that system as head coach for the New Jersey Nets but moved toward a more traditional pick-and-roll style while coaching the New Orleans Hornets and Cleveland Cavaliers, albeit with a lot of spacing and cuts.
Scott has had success coaching ball-dominant point guards in the past—Jason Kidd, Chris Paul and Kyrie Irving come to mind—and he’ll now have three more in Steve Nash, Jeremy Lin and Jordan Clarkson. Having a strong ball-handler will allow Young to thrive as a release valve on the wing as defenses collapse in the middle.
Yes, Swaggy P likes to showboat, and his brand of ISO ball can be entertaining, but that’s not where he’s at his most dangerous.
After the end of a maddening season, Drew Garrison for Silver Screen & Roll wrote about Young’s most successful juncture yet in the NBA, pointing out that his most effective moments were not when he was creating for himself, but working in transition and as a spot-up shooter:
When he was working as a cog within the offense Young was a perfect weapon for the Lakers last season. He shot an astounding 46.6 percent from beyond the arc as a spot-up shooter, which was a critical aspect of Mike D'Antoni's offense and really any offense at this point. The Lakers needed players to space the floor while running pick-and-rolls and Young was instrumental in providing an outlet as the secondary option.
Keep him moving and he'll provide efficient offense and three-point shooting. Let him control the offense, however, and he'll bring everything to a screeching halt.
While Scott will be working with a more deliberate post-centric pace as opposed to D’Antoni’s open-court style, he won’t be allowing screeching halts. A primary ball-handler will keep things flowing, and Young will be a key recipient.
There’s also the question of whether Young starts alongside Kobe Bryant or comes off the bench as an energizer. Given that he led the team in scoring as a sixth man last season—averaging 17.9 points in 64 games with only nine starts—it would make sense for Scott to have him reprise that role.
While we know Young creates energy on the offensive end of the floor, one of Scott’s mandates is restoring a sense of defensive responsibility and pride in his team.
Scott said Kobe has been working with Wes and Nick. "I told him that sounded great, but 'They better be ready to play some D.' "— Ramona Shelburne (@ramonashelburne) July 28, 2014
Young will never be confused for a lockdown stopper, but there’s no reason to believe that he can’t become a more fundamentally balanced player.
Breaking down a list of Laker players who he thought would most improve under Scott, analyst Dave Miller for TWC SportsNet made Young his top pick, offering why he thought the free-roaming scorer could finally become a legitimate two-way threat:
Byron Scott will break down the defensive scheme and put him in a better position for individual defense and then most importantly, collectively, the team defense—being able to help and recover, knowing his principles; one pass away, two passes away and three passes away.
Miller’s in a position to know, having worked under Scott as an assistant coach in New Orleans.
Young won’t only be answerable to his coach; he’ll also have to comply with Scott’s prime asset—Bryant. There will be a unified chain of command this season, and it’s worth remembering that Byron and the Mamba have been a part of the Purple and Gold’s last eight championship runs.
If Swaggy P becomes less about swag and more about committing on the defensive end, as well as scoring efficiently, he will earn the right to those precious fourth-quarter minutes when the game’s on the line.
How will Scott maximize Young’s utility? Simply put, by making him a more complete and responsible player.