Despite Lakers' early woes, 'Swaggy P' should win L.A. MVP
By EVAN BUDROVICH
College Contributor Network
When you begin to calculate the list of important players in a star-studded town like Los Angeles, the most laid back, entertaining goofball on the court usually isn't the first to come to mind. But what Nick "Swaggy P" Young has accomplished, just in two games back for the Lakers, has put him right in the discussion for the Most Valuable Player of Los Angeles.
After starting a lowly 1-9 on the year, barely settling above the Philadelphia 76ers as the worst team in basketball, the Lakers received both offensive production and lively humor. Young has averaged over 16 points per game, shooting 50-percent from the field, while averaging four-and-half rebounds per game, doubling his career average. But for a Lakers squad that has looked lost, unenthused and deflated at times this season, the energy has been jolted right back into the building.
Kobe Bryant admits that his goal for Young is to be named "Sixth Man of the Year," and while highly unlikely, he finished 10th in Sixth Man Voting last season, his newfound presence could be equally impactful on the Lakers' chances. Swaggy P has brought life back to a franchise resting on exorbitant ticket prices, an aging star that continues to dominate the basketball and a sickening formula on defense.
Through two games with Young back in the squad, playing on the road for back-to-back nights against teams with winning records, you could say the Lakers were finally starting to see straight again. The Lakers have added just the right spice on the regular season, sort of nestled between the thumb and index finger making the three-point shape around Young's fingers.
Swaggy P approaches the game in a carefree manner; a blessing and a curse in the game of basketball. His cuts to the basket aren't always pretty. The shot selection can drive coach Byron Scott insane. Heck, even Bryant can't contain himself watching Swaggy be Swaggy. But when Young checks into the game, the basketball starts moving and points start dropping in a good way.
Young summed up his recent impact best by saying, "my swag rubbed off on everyone" after Tuesday night's win over the Atlanta Hawks, the Lakers first road win of the season.
If you are wondering how someone so wild and frantic on the floor makes such an impact, take a look at the vintage Swaggy P (wildly) finishing under the basket. It may irk the legend Bryant, who still struggles, squints and internally melts away calling him "Nick Young," but the Lakers are in a great position to benefit from the skill set Swaggy P can instantly provide off the bench. Exhibit A right here:
What Kobe finally mustered was interesting, especially the certain aspects in which he thought Young had improved. Bryant told reporters after Wednesday night's win over the Houston Rockets that Young is, "Hitting his pull up jump shot. He's creating mismatches. He's working hard defensively." Those are distinct areas that can transform a relatively stagnant offense into one much more formidable.
Whether you buy into the hype or not, the 29-year-old is starting to play better defense.
The sample size has been small but Young is posting his best defensive ratings of his career, according to Basketball Reference. The Lakers are surely taking notice of all the hustle plays and extra communication he's been dishing out on that mostly forgotten end of the court. That's the thing. If Swaggy P can actually bring the hustle to defense, he can play more than just 15-20 minutes per night.
Many die-hard fans in Los Angeles are still split over whether they want to keep winning games (for that Draft Lottery coming up), but the emergence of a No. 2 scorer sure makes things more bearable in the Staples Center. Swaggy P will certainly provide entertainment, most of which will come in self mockery, but that's what makes the former USC Trojan such a valuable star for Los Angeles.
The elusive "swag effect" is back in the Lakers' locker room and the lasting impact Young and his four-year, $21.5 million deal, will have on the team say wonders about the future of this franchise. The Lakers want to rebuild, but they also want to compete with the Clippers, Dodgers and USC/UCLA programs for the pulse of the ever-changing sports base in Los Angeles.
Let's be honest, the Lakers will always be the top ticket in town. But now that "Swaggy P" has provided a little dose of swag back to the squad, the Lakers will be much more competitive and might actually be more watchable on a nightly basis. So crazy at it may seem, even Kobe Bryant wants some more SWAG.
Evan Budrovich is a senior at the University of Southern California. He has a passion for the 49ers, Dodgers baseball and all things USC athletics. Follow him on Twitter: @evanbud