Nick Young has picked up a key endorsement in his candidacy for the NBA's sixth man of the year: the department of defense.
"He's changed his name to Swaggy D," Lakers Coach Mike D'Antoni said Saturday of the swingman who usually goes by "Swaggy P." "We'll see if that holds up."
Young proved sturdy in the final seconds Friday, stepping in front of Detroit's Josh Smith to take a charge that helped preserve the Lakers' 106-102 victory.
It was a play that Young might have sidestepped earlier in his career, when he was known exclusively as a scorer. He's put together a more well-rounded resume in his first season as a Laker, helping to nudge his team one game above .500 with star Kobe Bryant sidelined by a torn Achilles' tendon.
Young is the Lakers' second-leading scorer behind Pau Gasol, averaging 14 points per game. In games Young has come off the bench, he's averaging 16.5 points, fourth-best in the league among players who have been reserves in multiple games.
Young rarely makes mistakes, his 14 turnovers in 428 minutes ranking him fifth in the NBA in turnover percentage.
"I'm loving him," D'Antoni said. "His concentration and his ability to not take a play off … he's playing both ends of the floor. I think he's playing phenomenally right now."
D'Antoni said the Lakers could bolster Young's candidacy for sixth man of the year by exceeding expectations. It's a crowded field, though, with several heavyweight candidates.
Detroit's Rodney Stuckey is averaging 16.9 points and shooting 49.5%. The Clippers' Jamal Crawford is averaging 15.8 points and just splurged for 31 points in a victory over Sacramento. Philadelphia's Tony Wroten is averaging 13.3 points and Phoenix's Markieff Morris is averaging 13.1 points and 5.7 rebounds while shooting 50.3% for one of the surprise teams in the Western Conference.
Last year's winner, J.R. Smith, is averaging a relatively low 11.7 points for the disappointing New York Knicks.
The Lakers are on the upswing in part because of Young, whose all-around brilliance has energized his teammates.
"Oh, man. I couldn't even describe it I was so excited," forward Wesley Johnson said of Young's big play Friday. "To see Nick there taking that charge, I think everybody was happy."
Bryant participated in the team's light drills Saturday but is not expected to play against Portland on Sunday at Staples Center. D'Antoni said the Lakers would have a better idea of when Bryant might be able to make his season debut after three days of practice next week preceding a game Friday against Sacramento.
"It doesn't mean he will play Friday, it doesn't mean he won't," D'Antoni said. "But that's the time to evaluate it."
Gasol (sprained right ankle, sprained left hand) and Jordan Hill (sprained left ankle) did not practice Saturday but are considered probable for the game against Portland. … D'Antoni said he expected Steve Nash (nerve root irritation) to rejoin the team Sunday and be reevaluated for the condition that has sidelined him since Nov. 10.