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Nick Young hopes his new effort on defense earns him a spot in Lakers' rotation

Nick Young hopes his new effort on defense earns him a spot in Lakers' rotation
Lakers forward Nick Young (0) drives against Sacramento Kings guard Arron Afflalo during a preseason game in Las Vegas on Oct. 13. (Ethan Miller / Getty Images)

As soon as the Lakers broke from a team huddle at the end of Monday’s practice, Nick Young shuffled to a spot in a corner of the court, behind the three-point line. 

His teammates were slow to clear out from under the basket, so Young blew on his hands to stay warm in the chilly gym. Then he got antsy, shifting his weight from side to side before beckoning for a Lakers staffer to throw him a ball.

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Once they all moved, he started firing threes. This is the Young the NBA has come to know: always stalking the three-point line, perpetually eager to shoot. But after an off-season with rumors that he might be traded, the 10-year veteran insists that he’s ready to do more than just score. 

Luke Walton, in his first year as Lakers coach, has noticed. He said Young was the Lakers' best defensive player in their 112-107 exhibition loss to the Golden State Warriors on Saturday. Young also led the team with 17 points off the bench in that game, but he said he knows his playing time hinges on his defensive effort.

"You play defense and then you can do anything else," Young said of Walton's message to him. "I can score, I know that, but that's not the only part of my job."

Throughout the summer, Young was not sure if he still had a job with the Lakers.

At the end of last season, he made unwanted headlines when a video of him discussing women other than then-fiancee Iggy Azalea became public. The video was secretly recorded by teammate D'Angelo Russell, creating a rift between Young and the young point guard, though the situation has since been smoothed over.

But when training camp started, Young, 31, was still on the roster.

"This summer, just with everything going on in my life and everything that was being said about me, it makes you step back," Young said.

So is his perceived career-long indifference to defense just perception, or reality?

"I'd say that's 50-50," Young said. "Some of it is just not taking that as seriously as I should at times, but I'm changed now. It's 10 years in the league, I'm changed."

Walton has set out to mold the Lakers into a team that pairs relentless defense with a ball-sharing offense. Young has adapted during the preseason, exerting himself defensively while finding shots in the flow of the offense.

"I have seen him make an effort to be a good defender," Walton said. "I don't know what his motivation is behind it, I would assume it's playing time rather than labels. Nick doesn't seem like the type of guy who really worries about what other people are saying about him, but he's been phenomenal for us."

Roster spot

The Lakers roster is currently at 17, with center Yi Jianlian, center/power forward Thomas Robinson and small forward Metta World Peace having non-guaranteed contracts.

"The whole camp's been important," Walton said Monday, regarding  the race to round out the final 15-man roster. "We'll sit down as a group and then I'll sit down with [General Manager] Mitch [Kupchak] and talk about what I see, what he thinks and what the staff thinks."

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Twitter: @dougherty_jesse

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