Last season, while Nick Young news was making the rounds in the celebrity gossip community, he was also having one of his worst years since he entered the league a decade ago. Young’s rebounding and assist numbers were among his lowest since his early years in Washington. Granted, Young has never had much of a reputation for anything besides scoring, but his 7.3 points per game last year was his worst mark as a pro. Young’s .442 effective field goal percentage, which ranked in the bottom quartile of all players last season, and his 9.1 PER were also career worsts.
Nothing about last season’s Nick Young was strictly for buckets. The guard came off the bench for all but two games during the Kobe farewell tour. And now that Young was no longer adding any offensive value, it seemed like he was about to wash out of the league. Instead, through 34 games, he’s been not just one of one of the best shooters in the league, but one of the best in NBA history.
This season, his .594 eFG is the 11th-best mark among players with more than 200 attempts. Of the players ahead of Young, only one of them isn’t a big man. He’s also third in the NBA in 3-point percentage among players with 200 or more attempts from behind the arc.
Zoom out, and the numbers are even more impressive. Among guards and forwards, Young’s eFG percentage is the 40th-best mark ever. (Before his recent abysmal three-game stretch, he was 10th). Currently, he’s one of only four players all time to have an eFG above .590 while attempting six or more 3s a game. Young trails only 2015–16 Steph Curry and 2004–05 Damon Jones. (Sidenote: If you lower the attempt requirement to five 3s per game, Kyle Korver has three qualifying seasons. Kyle Korver is very good at shooting a basketball and is going to get more open looks than ever as the Cavs’ fourth option.)
Over his career, Young has averaged a .488 eFG percentage. His previous best single-season mark was when he shot .511 two seasons ago. He’s been more efficient by other metrics, too. Young is currently 91st in the league in PER; he’s never finished in the top 100.
So, how do you go from a meme to one of the NBA’s most reliable shooters in the span of one offseason?
Well, it hasn’t been his shot selection. Young heavily favors straight-on 3s and midrange jumpers. Last season, those two shot types accounted for about 77 percent of his total shot attempts. This season, that number is down, though not dramatically, to about 68 percent. That drop has mostly come from midrange jumpers, which have declined from 28 percent to about 20 percent of his total shots. Young also hasn’t been inflating his shooting numbers with finishes at the rim. His percentage of shots within 5 feet of the cup has doubled, but only to 8 percent from a miniscule 4 over the course of last season. Young’s distance from defenders, number of dribbles taken, and time with the ball before taking a shot have changed only marginally from last season. Julius Randle has assisted on 33 of Young’s buckets so far this season, as opposed to only three during all of last season, but most everything else involved with Young’s offensive plan has stayed the same. The most noticeable difference is that these shots have actually followed script over the past few months.
While Young’s approach seems to have stayed the same, the Lakers have changed on a number of fronts. Kobe is gone, Luke Walton is actually a good coach, and the team’s young core has had a year to improve. Los Angeles’s scheme has likely helped Young’s confidence, and he’s probably riding a bit of a hot streak as well.
As for Young himself, the 31-year-old has credited his recent shooting streak … to Soulja Boy, who has been tangent to the NBA since 2008, when he backed DeShawn Stevenson, who, at the time, was in a feud with LeBron James and Jay Z.
I’m not sure if that bodes well or poorly for Young’s future performance, but well … who won a ring first?