Nick Young a Crucial Piece for Future Championship Runs

How did Manu Ginobili, Lamar Odom, Ray Allen, Jason Terry, and James Posey contribute to their NBA teams in the last decade?

The answer?

They all played the Sixth Man role and became some of the most important pieces to help their teams win an NBA Championship.

The Los Angeles Lakers have a huge opportunity offseason to negate the atrocity of this season, mired by injuries and turmoil, if they use their huge salary cap space this off-season to field a roster that can contend for another NBA Championship.

The good news? One crucial asset the Lakers must retain on their 2014-2015 team, outside of Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol, happens to be wearing a Lakers uniform this season.

Lakers Sixth Man Nick Young, or “Swaggy P”, has taken full advantage of his return to the City of Angels to play for the team he rooted for throughout his childhood.

Before he joined the Lakers, the 7-year NBA veteran Young fostered a negative reputation throughout the NBA as a low percentage, volume shooter who took too many difficult shots and became a defensive liability. However, Young has slammed the door shut on his critics so far this season and has become the Lakers’ MVP and a runaway winner of the “Sixth Man of the Year” award if the season concluded today and the Lakers had a winning record.

Young has lead the Lakers in scoring, averaging 17.1 PPG this season in only 28.7 MPG, including scoring 29, 31 vs. Toronto Raptors and Chicago Bulls this week.

Kobe Bryant and Nick Young’s Relationship

Photo: Andrew Bernstein/Getty Images

Photo: Andrew Bernstein/Getty Images

Bryant and Young each represent two completely different characters. Bryant, known as the “Black Mamba”, possesses the old-school mentality of striking for the kill every time he is out on the court and being dead serious both on and off the floor. Meanwhile, Young has become well-known for his “swagger” both on and off the floor–wearing ridiculous looking outfits and the displaying joy out on the floor.

Two different characters, yes. But they both play the same exact style of ball; both want the ball during crunch time and have no fear in taking any shots to try to lead their team to victory.

Young has mimicked Bryant as much as possible and has tried to pick up the slack of Bryant’s absence by being the go-to guy on the floor, pretending to be Bryant in pre-game interviews, debuting the Kobe IX this week against the Miami Heat, and even sporting a mini-afro that Bryant famously sported during his early years.

Also, we cannot help to notice that Young has clearly learned a few tricks from Bryant, including drawing multiple shooting fouls, something Bryant has been known for throughout his career.

Most notably, when Young took over the game vs. the Chicago Bulls on Monday, we could not help but see Bryant with a huge grin on his face watching Young frustrate the Bulls by hitting shot after shot, and drawing multiple shooting fouls, which show similarity to Bryant’s style of attack on offense.

“I think he’s the guy that gets more fouls from the 3-point line than I’ve ever seen,” Gasol said to ESPNLA’s Dave McMenamin. “It’s incredible the way he gets fouled shooting 3s. I don’t know how that happens so often. But he does it really well, and I’m happy he plays well for us.”

Many players have not taken advantage of Bryant’s no-nonsense basketball lessons and advices in the past. However, Young seems to be one of the few players that has taken full advantage of learning from one of the NBA’s greatest player of all time.

“Kobe’s been a great mentor for me, just telling me all kind of things during the game,” Young said to McMenamin. “That’s been unbelievable for me this whole year, just learning from the greatest player to play this game. “Who wouldn’t want to learn from or have Kobe in their locker room?”

Bryant has seen Young progress in front of his own eyes, and loves what he stands for as a player; most notably when he called out his teammates for not having his back after being ejected vs. the Phoenix Suns.

“He’s bringing an edge to the game. He’s bringing a competitiveness that’s been missing,” Bryant explained to the LA Daily News’s Mark Medina. “The altercation in Phoenix brought things to a head to where ‘This is not OK.’ If you’re upset about something, you need to be upset about it instead of sweeping it under the rug.”

Although Young and Bryant play with a different mindset on the court, they both show killer instinct in different ways.

What the Future Holds

Image: Stephen Dunn | Getty Images

Image: Stephen Dunn | Getty Images

Although no definitive information currently exists regarding Young’s future with the Lakers, the Lakers’ management definitely prioritizes re-signing Young to a new long-term contract.

Young will most likely opt out of his player-option for next season and seek a long-term contract this off-season. A comparison could be found in the Clippers’ Jamal Crawford‘s contract in the range of four years and $25 million.

Although I agree that inadequate coaches and locker room turmoil doomed the Lakers from competing for the NBA Championships these past two seasons, one of the main reasons for the Lakers’ recent failures has been the non-existence of a solid bench unit after Lamar Odom‘s departure.

The Lakers have now found a solution and a foundation off the bench in Swaggy P.

Nick Young will certainly help limit Bryant’s minutes on the floor and guarantee the Lakers always have a go-to-guy on the floor at all times in the future.

Although this season has been a mess, look for Young to be one of the main foundations for another push at an NBA Championship before Kobe Bryant’s career comes to a close. If the Lakers can keep Young, Gasol and acquire a superstar this off-season, the Lakers will rise back to the top before the number 24 goes up into the rafters at STAPLES Center.

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Kanta Ito currently attends UC Santa Cruz as a 4th year undergraduate Business Management Economics major. Kanta also contributes to Warriors World and seeks to attend Graduate School to study Sports Management.