Three observations from the Nuggets’ 97-88 victory over the Lakers in preseason play.
1. Young, at heart
Nick Young indeed has it all. Not only is the smiley Los Angeles native and former USC 2-guard playing for his hometown Lakers, alongside longtime pal Jordan Farmar, he’s the only player to start in each of the team’s games in its back-to-back to open the preseason.
And it’s not for show, either. In the Lakers’ first preseason affair in lovely Ontario, Calif., the shot enthusiast hoisted nine from the floor -- none of which coming inside the paint -- and eight from the free-throw line in just 20 minutes. Against the Nuggets, Young took a game-high 16 (to his credit, seven were at the rim) and made four for nine points in 24 minutes of playing time, to go along with three steals and more turnovers (two) than rebounds and assists combined (one).
No one is happier about it than Nick Young.
“The plays we run, it's there for me to shoot,” he said.
The Lakers will likely be Pau Gasol-dependent until Kobe Bryant remerges from cryostasis, as evidenced by the 13 shots the 33-year-old, now back at the 5-spot, took in 22 minutes of his first preseason action. But Gasol can only do so much, especially now that he’s expected to see more time closer to the basket, and Steve Nash has become decidedly more focused on others as his age creeps higher: The 39-year-old averaged under 10 shots a game the past two seasons, which he hadn’t done since 1999-2000, and has also averaged just 2.3 free-throw attempts for two seasons running. (His assist rate also tanked last season to the lowest it’s been in a decade.) Which leaves plenty of opportunities for shot creation on the wings, and Young, believe or not, is the surest thing these patchwork Lakers have in that department for the time being.
“That’s what he does, he scores,” Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said. “You know what, if you don’t give him leeway then he shouldn’t play. Again, he’s coachable and wants to learn. He wants to play the right way and he will. He is one of those guys that puts up a lot of points. Nick, he is going to score a lot of points for us.”
Things will likely be shuffled around once Bryant makes his triumphant return, but until then, this is the reality the Lakers will have to make do with.
Quoth Young: “The whole game will [change] when Kobe comes back, because you feature him. But I’m still gonna play by game and release a lot of pressure.”
2. Nuggets in McGee’s hands?
The allure of JaVale McGee in theory has felled many a coach in the past. McGee has served under five head coaches in his five previous NBA seasons, but none have truly been able to tap into the seemingly enormous potential of the noted goofball with the body of a superhero action hero: Though his PER (20.78 in 2012-13, 23rd-best in the NBA) shows a future All-Star, his raw production (9.1 points, 4.8 rebounds, 2 blocks, 2.3 fouls in 18.1 minutes a game) remains rather average.
But with Brian Shaw now running the show and honing in on more of a traditional offense, McGee may become less of a cog in Denver and more of a featured player.
“Definitely we want to play inside-out,” Shaw said. “If he gets down the court and he’s open, he has his man on his back, we want to throw the ball inside.
“Whether it results in a made basket or putting foul pressure on the opposing team, that’s what we want. That’s what we’re trying to develop.”
That strategy bore some fruit early against the Lakers, as McGee, who finished with 12 points on 3-for-6 shooting, seven rebounds, four fouls and one steal and one turnover, missed his two shots from the floor but pulled down four rebounds (two on the offensive glass) and earned six shots at the free-throw line, all of which the 54 percent career free-throw shooter knocked down.
“I think that you try to make his as confident as possible, make him feel like he can do anything out there on the floor that he wants to, try to put him in position to succeed, get him in the ball in the places where he can do things with,” Shaw said. “I think he’s an underrated 15-foot jump shooter. He knocked down the ones I remember him taking tonight. But it’s only one preseason game. He’s got to continue to build, continue to lift that confidence up and I think he’ll do well.”
Indeed, all three of McGee’s made buckets Sunday came away from just inside the paint or farther out, and he actually shot 43.3 percent from 10-15 feet last season, albeit on 0.4 attempts per game, per HoopData.com. Continuing that success, and keeping his “Pierre alter ego at bay, will always be the question.
For the time being, though, Young and McGee, the league’s foremost YouTube comedy duo and fellow castaways in the Wizards’ midseason purge of 2011-12, will likely figure prominently in two of the Western Conference's most high-profile franchises.
3. R.I.P. fun-time Nuggets
The Nuggets were the second-fastest team in the NBA last season in terms of pace, at 97.8 possessions per game, and in the George Karl era (2005-2013) Denver has never dropped out to the league’s top five. But it’s time to say goodbye to the fun-time Nuggets as we know them.
Before Sunday’s game, new head coach Brian Shaw said that while he’ll carry over some Karl-era elements, the days of running and gunning are likely over, going as far to note the relative lack of success by teams running that style (which is another battle for another day). The new-look Nuggets, who also lost star general manager Masai Ujiri and the closest thing to a star player in Andre Iguodala this past offseason, won’t be going full-on Triangle under Shaw, a Phil Jackson disciple, but they will use some of those elements, according to the coach. It’s really a potpourri at this point, with the first-year head coach most focused on what he described as "basic" NBA sets.
At least they signed Nate Robinson.