OAKLAND -- Gone, at least temporarily, is Nick Young’s lot as the untamed mustang running with thoroughbreds among on the Warriors’ roster. Time to dial back the wild, the coming off the bench and launching 25-footers like wads of paper toward a trash bin.
Young is the only healthy shooting guard on a team chasing a championship, and with that comes more responsibility than he has known at any time during a 10-year career spent mostly with floundering teams that spend the final weeks of the season easing into an early summer daze.
But with All-Star shooting guard Klay Thompson, in many ways the rock of the Warriors lineup, out for a couple weeks, most of his job of scoring and defending falls to Young, whose 10-year career is defined mostly by streaky shooting, a lot of losing and giving himself a nickname.
Never before has Swaggy P -- or his alternate spelling, Swagy P -- been described as “the rock” of his team. The Warriors aren’t asking that of him now. He will start, though, and the Warriors want him playing each possession at both ends with a little more detail because they have no other option.
The next few games are Young’s dress rehearsal for the postseason. He says he is ready, despite his unsteady start Wednesday against the Lakers, his former team.
“Just thinking too much,” he said of a scoreless first half during which he missed all four of his shots. “Just had to get out of my head, and the guys helped me. KD (Kevin Durant) told me, ‘You’ve been a scorer in this league forever. Just do that. Don’t worry about what’s going to happen.’ ”
Young came out in the second half and scored 18 points. He was 6-of-9 from the field, 3-of-6 from deep. He added three rebounds, an assist and a steal. After posting a minus-9 in 11 first-half minutes, he was a team-best plus-16 in 20 minutes in the second half.
His 10-point third quarter, ignited by a 3-point bomb 29 seconds into the second half, was the catalyst for the pivotal point of a game that was tied at the half. The Warriors went in front early in the quarter and rolled to a 117-106 victory.
“It’s not just because he’s making shots, but he’s providing the spacing,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr explained. “You could see the Lakers were loading up on every play in the paint. We needed that spacing and knocking down those threes in the second half opened the game up a little bit.”
His mind set free, Young he performed exquisitely while also conforming just enough to at least temporarily keep the doubters at bay.
He even allowed himself a little shimmy and body lean, flashing three fingers to signal he had drained a triple.
“I love when Nick’s out there enjoying the game that way,” Durant said. “It just brings different energy to our team. He was excited tonight and hopefully, we continue to build on that. He played extremely hard on both sides of the ball, and I think that’s what got his jump shot going.”
The Warriors need to see Young make an impact in March, and they really need to see it now, with Stephen Curry out for at least another week and Thompson out even longer.
Young concedes that making adjustments -- coming off the bench on a team with established All-Stars -- has been challenging. He wants to be himself, let the mustang out, but he sometimes needs help in reading his teammates.
“They think I can’t . . . that Swaggy can’t get in his head,” he said. “But we’ve got so many stars over here that I’m trying play the perfect role. I don’t want to mess up. Even them guys tell me to ‘be Swaggy. Dance out there. Be you.’ ”
Well, sometimes, yes. Swaggy plays fine in the good times. That was hard to know for sure, though, because they’ve been rare. Swaggy being Swaggy in defeat is a bad look that wouldn’t wear well even on a tolerant culture of the Warriors.
There were many around the NBA that wondered last summer why the defending champions would use their $5.2 million midlevel exception on a player with a reputation for being a free-spirited individual and a one-dimensional player.
Young had been to the playoffs twice in 10 seasons, once as a rookie with the Wizards, playing all of nine minutes over four games and once more with the Clippers in 2011-12.
How would this dude, with his undecorated history, fit with his new task-oriented teammates so accustomed to winning at historical levels?
“I was over on that side, counting down the days,” Young recalled of his four losing seasons with the Lakers. “With 10 more games left, they probably would have sat me our or something. I would have had an early vacation, being out in April.
“But now I’m trying to play until June. My birthday is June 1. I’m trying to meet that mark and still be out there.”
Toward the end of Young’s postgame interview session, he began a dialogue with teammate JaVale McGee. Young was in front of his locker, McGee in the shower, out of view. The two are supposedly collaborating on an album, with McGee producing the Young rapping. They were shouting about studio time.
It was so, well, Swaggy P. He sees himself as a star.
The Finals are scheduled to begin May 31. For the Warriors to participate, they’re going to need Young to have some star moments. This is going to be a symbiotic relationship for however long it lasts. The better he is, the better they can be.