Kobe Bryant’s return has unexpected effect on Lakers’ Nick Young
MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Nick Young talked trash to Kobe Bryant back in training camp.
Forgive him. He was new to the Lakers.
Bryant was sidelined at the time, but Young teased him about getting a dose of Young’s game whenever the Achilles’ tendon improved.
Bryant rolled his eyes. But a part of him actually liked the fearlessness.
Cut to last week, and the return of Bryant after a 19-game absence.
Young figured his stats were about to be charred, his high-volume shooting days with the Lakers done.
“I think all of us kind of thought that a little bit,” Young said Tuesday. “Kobe is one of the best players to play this game and he’s coming back and he demands the ball.”
Not entirely. Young’s scoring has increased in the six games since Bryant’s return, his 18 points Tuesday against Memphis pushing him to 17.2 a game with Bryant.
Young made six of 11 shots in the Lakers’ 96-92 victory, earning a verbal line of credit from Bryant.
“Nick obviously is an incredible creator off the dribble so we gave him space to operate and he did a fantastic job,” Bryant said.
Young has had to do more playmaking without any healthy point guards on the Lakers’ roster, and he’s been on a defensive tear — for him, anyway.
He blocked a shot each of the last three games and took a charge Monday against Atlanta.
“That’s what I’ve been working on. Been talking to Coach about it, Kobe’s been helping me out with it,” Young said. “Just learning, getting older, finding out how to do everything out there on the court.”
Young, 28, is one of the few Lakers with guaranteed money next season. He’ll have a player option for $1.2 million.
He’s also the most ebullient of the Lakers, a joke never too far from being delivered. After he took a game-saving charge in the final seconds against Detroit last month, he offered a euphoric observation.
“I’m the defensive player of the year now,” he said, smiling widely.
After the Lakers lost to Atlanta, though, Bryant wanted Young to study video of the game. Watch how the Hawks defended him. Figure out how to play better.
That was after Young scored 23 points on seven-for-14 shooting.
“He’s been on my back,” Young said.
Young watched Bryant from afar as a fan while attending Reseda Cleveland High and then USC.
He doesn’t have to shrink back with Bryant on the court, he’s now realizing. He admitted he was more spectator than player when Bryant returned Dec. 8 against Toronto.
“I thought the first game I was sitting back and watching him,” said Young, who still scored 19 points that night. “But we’ve all just got to feed off each other. He needs us to help him out right now so he can get back to 100%.”
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