How 'Swaggy P' Has Kept the Los Angeles Lakers EntertainingLos Angeles Lakers fans have been spoiled for the past 18 years.
Impossible fade-aways, twirling layups, fancy footwork, an 81-point game. Kobe Bryant has been an entertainer in every sense of the word, the perfect player to represent the entertainment capital of the world.
But when Bryant went down with his Achilles injury last year, the City of Angels collectively realized that the Lakers might not be as fun to watch until their hero recovered. Nobody could match Bryant's otherworldly skill set, but perhaps there was a player out there who could replace his entertainment value.
Nick Young was a sophomore guard down the road at the University of Southern California when Bryant was at the peak of his powers in 2006. From Young's home arena at USC's Galen Center, all it took was northbound glance up Figueroa Street and there was the blue hue of the Staples Center lights.
A Los Angeles native who played high school ball less than 30 miles from USC and Staples Center, Young had grown up on the Shaq-and-Kobe Lakers. He watched that dynamic duo complete a thrilling three-peat in the early 2000s, young Bryant developing a swagger and transforming into a superstar while Shaq dominated on the court and joked around off of it. The Lakers were pure entertainment.
Later it was Bryant putting up 50-point games like they were nothing. Without any real pieces around him on the Lakers during those years, Bryant was a pure entertainer who performed like he was in a video game.
Young emulated the Black Mamba's confidence and scorer's mentality as a Trojan, earning All-Pac-10 First Team honors for the 2005-06 and 2006-07 seasons.
But Young left the only city he ever knew when the Washington Wizards selected him 16th overall in the 2007 NBA draft. In his first professional game against the Lakers back at Staples Center, Young put on a show for the hometown crowd, pouring in a then-career-high 27 points in a 126-100 loss. Bryant, Young's idol growing up, finished with 26.
Young inched closer to his true calling when he signed on with the Los Angeles Clippers for their 2012 playoff run. By then self-dubbed as Swaggy P, Young had a memorable shooting display in a postseason game against the Memphis Grizzlies in which he drained three three-pointers in less than a minute to help the Clippers complete a historic comeback. Anyone who hoists three triples in under a minute definitely has confidence and swagger.
Yet it wasn't right. It wasn't the purple and gold. Young left the Clippers at the end of the season.
It was blasphemous for Young, a shooting guard, to even think about starting for the Lakers when that position was strictly reserved for the best player in the league, a player who epitomized the swagger that Young strived to mirror.
But not even Young could have predicted that the indestructible Bryant would rupture his Achilles tendon.
By the summer of 2013, the Lakers were in need of a scoring guard for the first time in over 15 years.
They contacted Swaggy P.
Young called it "a dream come true” after signing for the veteran's minimum. He didn't care about the money. Young just wanted a chance to shine as a member of the Lakers.
Now three months into his first season playing for the team he grew up following, Young is shining all right. Not only has he transformed into one of the Lakers' most trusted scorers, he is also a leading candidate for the Sixth Man of the Year Award.
His laid-back personality and colorful honesty have made him a well-respected locker-room presence by both his teammates and the media. On the court, Young displays an uncanny ability to get his smooth shot over the hand of any defender as well as a handy penchant for drawing shooting fouls on the perimeter. His effective, gun-slinging style of play has been an entertaining bright spot on a team that is struggling with its recent fall from the NBA's elite.
Despite starting only eight games so far, Young is averaging a team-high 17.1 points per game, including 60 over his last two. The shoot-first guard may not posses the firepower to score all 60 in one game like Bryant used to do, but Young has drawn praise from the future Hall of Famer he is currently replacing.
"(Young) is getting there, in the sense of the attitude that he's bringing to play," Bryant told reporters prior to the Lakers' game in Chicago on Monday. "He's bringing an edge to the game, he's bringing kind of a combativeness that's been missing."
An edge to his game? Some might call it a swagger.
The Lakers just call it Swaggy.