A big opportunity awaits Swaggy P in Game 4 and potentially beyond

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OAKLAND -- When the Warriors signed Nick Young to a contract worth $5.2 million last July, it wasn’t so he could hitchhike to the playoffs. For much of this season, with the veteran shooter trudging through limited minutes, that’s how it has looked.

On Tuesday night, and perhaps beyond, Young will have a chance to give the Warriors a more substantial return on their investment. Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals looms and if Andre Iguodala is unavailable, there will be an opportunity for Young.

Suddenly, Nick Young, aka Swaggy P, often the butt of jokes and a frequent source of comic relief among his teammates, is needed in a serious role.

He already has a running start, averaging 16.7 minutes through the first three games. In the two previous playoff series, against the Spurs and the Pelicans, averaged 7.1 minutes per game.

Coach Steve Kerr said prior to Game 1 last week that Young could play a bigger role against the Rockets. That was a statement of trust in the former Laker, and Young has not disappointed. To the contrary, he had done an admirable job on the perimeter defending either James Harden or Chris Paul.

“He’s been great this series, guarding James, guarding Chris Paul, whoever he’s on,” Klay Thompson said Monday after practice. “He’s stayed disciplined, stayed in front of them. And as happy-go-lucky as Swaggy is, he’s also a competitor.”

Young’s defense, though nowhere near Iguodala’s level, has been solid against Houston. The team’s rating is a relatively 99.5 in Young’s 50 minutes on the floor.

“Luke Walton said he was the best defender on the Lakers when he was coaching him,” Thompson said, “even though Luke at the time said that wasn’t that big of an accomplishment.

“I didn’t know he moved his feet that well. But he’s definitely shown his value this series and why we brought him on, just because he stretches the floor and he’s a stalwart on defense.”

Absorb those last nine words for a moment. “Stretches the floor and he’s a stalwart on defense.” That may be the first time Nick Young has ever been described as a “stalwart” on defense. In this series, though, it’s hard to argue against it.

Still, Young’s greatest asset is on offense, where he does nothing better than stretch the floor with an extremely willing and very able three-point shot. Whereas opponents routinely sag off Iguodala, inviting him to shoot from deep, no team is foolish enough to take that risk with Young.

And that’s where he can burn the Rockets while also creating a little more room for deep-shooting teammates Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and Thompson.

That ability, along with Young’s more reliable defense, is why he would be considered to start Game 4 in the absence of Iguodala, who is listed as doubtful with soreness in his left knee.

Kerr could go with Kevon Looney at center, sliding Draymond Green back to power forward and Durant back to small forward, with Curry and Thompson as the guards, with Young coming off the bench.

Or the coach could stay with Green at center, with Durant at power forward and Young moving into the small forward spot for Iguodala.

Young has not exactly been a terrific addition. His offensive production has been mostly hit-and-miss, and he usually has been a step slow on defense. His regular season was decidedly low-impact.

If he’s able to make a positive impact now, when it matters most, CEO Joe Lacob and general manager Bob Myers will feel a whole lot better about having signed Young.

Whether he starts or not, the opportunity will be there. And if Iguodala misses a game or more, the Warriors will be begging for Young to make the most of it.

Game Result/Schedule
Game 1 Warriors 119, Rockets 106
Game 2 Rockets 127, Warriors 105
Game 3 Warriors 126, Rockets 85
Game 4 Oakland -- Tuesday, May 22nd at 6pm
Game 5 Houston -- Thursday, May 24th at 6pm
Game 6 Oakland -- Saturday, May 26th at 6pm
Game 7 Houston -- Monday, May 28th at 6pm
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