To Nick Young’s name on Tuesday night at Staples Center were 14 points, including four three-pointers, two assists, a blocked shot, a steal and one bloody nose that pleased his coach.
“That means you’re fighting,” Lakers Coach Luke Walton said.
Young is a scorer, and he relishes it. But as the regular season approaches, other dimensions of his game will help Young carve out playing time.
Tuesday the Lakers lost to the Trail Blazers, 109-106, in overtime as Portland guard Damian Lillard scored 30 points in 26 minutes. The Lakers’ starting lineup returned to what they began their exhibition slate with — Luol Deng, Julius Randle, Timofey Mozgov, Lou Williams and D’Angelo Russell.
Young showcased his scoring prowess through part of the game, but the work he did defensively impressed Walton more.
And it’s not for the first time this preseason that’s happened.
“He’s fighting through screens, he’s locking and trailing, getting in there and rebounding,” Walton said. “I told him after he did it the first night, he proved to us that he can do it so now we expect to see it every time he’s out there.”
Walton chose not to begin his time as Lakers coach with preconceived notions about Young. He’d known Young from his playing days, but otherwise entered this summer with an open mind. In practices he’s liked Young’s work ethic and felt positive about the chemistry between Young and his teammates.
The year after Walton retired from playing was the first year Young played for the Lakers.
With a job on television, Walton watched Young closely, and saw how strong he was defensively when he put his mind to it.
Knowing that, Walton set to work extracting it.
Before Sunday’s game against the Denver Nuggets in Ontario, Walton reminded Young of his defensive ability. He challenged him to play that way again.
“It’s something that’s been over my head my whole career, I don’t play defense,” Young said after Sunday’s game, which he started in Deng’s place. “But when you got somebody that’s helping you and talking to you, that makes it a lot easier.
“I tip my hat off to coach for believing in me and still letting me go out there and play.”
That defensive energy returned Tuesday. But that doesn’t mean Young’s strayed too far from his roots.
“He’ll hit a three in practice and run down and look at me and start naming Reggie Miller, Larry Bird and he’ll throw his own name in there,” Walton said.
“When you like scoring as much as that that’s who you are, but he’s buying in right now and it’s fun to see.”