Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Nick Young Is a Friggin' NBA Champion!

After the Golden State Warriors signed Kevin Durant during the 2016 free agency, the 2017 NBA title was basically as good as theirs.   And indeed they won it.  But for the 2018 title run, they decided to give the other 29 teams a slight fighting chance by giving themselves a handicap, and that is, they used their 2017 mid-level exception to sign Nick Young – a player whose most iconic NBA moment is this:
Swaggy P, as what Young wants himself to be nicknamed, probably has as many noteworthy knucklehead moments under his belt as Warrior teammate and Shaqtin’ a Fool legend JaValee McGee.  Thus, the collective basketball IQ of the Warriors, whose identity is defined by smart playing, dropped when he was added to the team, giving other teams the prospect of making the game more competitive.

Kidding aside, many – including me – definitely thought that the acquisition of Nick Young meant more firepower coming off the bench for the already stacked Warriors.  After all, he just had a solid season with the Lakers – averaging 13.2 points on 43% shooting while hitting a career-high 170 three-pointers on 40.4% accuracy, his best since 2010.  Hence, he was expected to be a deadly, streaky sharp-shooter that would flourish from the ton of open looks he would get from the Warriors’ signature, dazzling ball movement.

Unfortunately, though he had a couple of explosive games, he didn’t quite live up to the role.  In the regular season, he posted an average of 7.3 points while shooting 38% from behind the arc and 41% overall in 17 minutes of play.  Those are okay numbers as a backup, but not really worth the $5.444 million salary given to him.   Those are just comparable to what Ian Clark provided for the Warriors, the roster spot Young took, and he could have been signed instead for much lesser money (Clark played for the Pelicans this past season, and got paid $1.015 million).

In the playoffs?  He was way worse statistically.  He played an average of ten minutes for 2.6 points shooting 30% from the field.  He did however play great defense on James Harden in the Western Conference Finals on a handful of instances, including this gorgeous sequence:
Swaggy D!

Nevertheless, I am really happy that Nick Young got to win a ring with the Warriors.   Whatever his failings on the court are, he remains one of the NBA’s most entertaining personalities.  And it looked like he was such a fun and relaxing locker room presence that his teammates and Coach Kerr seemed to enjoy having him around.
He was basically the Warriors' mascot.

Moreover, as a Laker fan, there’s always something joyful about seeing a former fan-favorite Laker winning his first ring, even if that happens with another team – especially with someone like Swaggy P, whose times as a source of good vibes outweigh the times he was the source of frustrations when he wore the purple and gold.

I was particularly a fan during his first year as a Laker.  He was one of the few bright spots of that awful 2013-2014 season, in which Kobe Bryant only got to play for six games due to injury and which started a playoff drought that is yet to be broken.  Nick wasn’t a star, but he played with so much, well, swag.  He played without any doubts that he was worthy of playing under the bright LA lights, and he didn’t fold even in the face of much stronger opponents.

My most favorite moment of his was the Christmas Day 2013 game against the defending champions Miami Heat, a team that featured LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, and Ray Allen.  Kobe was sidelined just a few days prior, and the Heat were expected to win.  Well, the Heat did win.  But Nick Young put up a fight.  He came off the bench to lead all Laker scores with 20, most of which came in the third quarter where he took LeBron James head on – and triumphed:
I wish I saw flashes of these during the Finals.

I doubt that the Warriors will keep him for next season (unless, maybe, if they want to keep him as mascot and he’s willing to take the vet’s minimum).  Doesn’t matter.  He’s now, in his own words, “Swag Champ.”  And being a champion is something that won’t be ever taken from him.

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