This may sound preposterous now, but there was a time during the 2017-2018 regular season in which the Kevin Durant-abandoned Oklahoma City Thunder actually thought they were good.
They had twice spat thick tobacco-juice residue on the golden boots of the reigning world champions, blowing out the Golden State Warriors in two, emotionally charged affairs. The champs were amused enough by this feisty uprising to be moved to unleash a modicum of their nuclear-strength, playoff-level focus. The grumpy MVP Russell Westbrook and his inadequate cronies were turned into the basketball equivalent of target practice, as the Warriors drilled them in a 32-point beatdown in front of Dub Nation in Oakland.
The cherry on the top of this brutal reminder of the Western Conference hierarchy was a two-part situation Nick Young wiggled his way into late in the third quarter.
First, watch as an animated Curry celebrates Young’s dagger-shimmy directly in front of a demoralized Thunder bench.
Here, Young has the audacity to cartoonishly conjure up some body english in support of his shot while positioned directly in view of the Thunder’s proud, but ultimately inadequate bench.
Less than a minute later, Curry slangs another wild pass to the sharpshooting Young in the corner, this one for a buzzer beater. As Young releases the shot from 23 feet, Curry and Draymond Green lift their hands in an early celebration. BANG! The ball splashes through the net as the horn blows, setting off a reverberation of “DID OKC ACTUALLY THINK THEY WERE ON OUR LEVEL?!” fueled celebration throughout Oracle Arena.
A celebration so electric, Young had no choice but to unroll a sweet shimmy in the way of OKC’s bench. Westbrook wasn’t happy ‘bout that, to say the least.
Those back-to-back triples capped off a 14-0 Warriors run that shoved the game out of reach. Suddenly, I knew what Young’s ingredient was in the Warriors’ ever evolving chemistry: infectious jubilation.
Look at the unbridled enthusiasm his teammates displayed while rejoicing over his big buckets. Check out the delirious Oracle crowd’s elation that “Swaggy P” was the one to bury the pretenders from Oklahoma City.
Young’s unrelenting glee was the perfect emotional addition for the Warriors’ 2017-2018 quest to weaponize joy.
“After playing against him for years you obviously know his kind of personality. He’s always having fun. He’s always smiling and enjoying what he’s doing on and off the court. It’s something that’s very consistent with our culture,” Warriors guard Stephen Curry said. “His role will be to just get buckets, and do it his way, within Warriors basketball. It’s gonna be fun to watch. From a team aspect, I think he’ll be just fine.”
Curry’s quote before the season on Young’s arrival revealed what the superstar point guard was looking forward to the most: “fun”. During the long grind of an NBA season, the champs would need all the cathartic silliness in the world. I was fascinated by how he quickly wove himself into the Warriors locker room as a cheerful sniper, honored to be along for the ride.
Nick Young on Steph Curry: "I told him, I didn't come here for you to get hurt. I need to throw some champagne around."— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) March 24, 2018
Who can forget how he rolled up to his first ever playoff game in the Warriors first round series against the fallen San Antonio Spurs dynasty?
I can’t tell if Swaggy was about to guard Manu Ginobili or take out the recycling from Iggy Azalea’s house in the hills. Young’s whole season was spent enjoying being a background dancer on the coolest band in showbiz. His reverence for his teammates and his playful demeanor made his shtick a favorite in the Golden Empire.
How was the on-court Swag?
“Our message to Nick was, ‘You’re perfect for us’. You can shoot, you’re 6-foot-7, you can guard multiple spots. You have to accept the fact that not every night is going to be your night. Guys sacrifice for a chance to win a championship,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “Our players understand that and the payoff is tremendous, but the only way it works is if they accept it and accept the challenge.”
Dub Nation had plenty of joy for Young’s locker room off-court charisma, but were also skeptical of Young’s on-the-court consistency.
Young allegedly entered training camp “out of shape”. After insisting his conditioning issue had more to do with adjusting with the Warriors unique speed of pace, he stepped in for an injured Andre Iguodala on Opening Night, and lit the Rockets up for 23 points on 9 shots. He would finish with 23 double digit scoring games for the season, and shot 37% from long range (sixth best on the team). Still, his thirstiness for momentum swinging three-pointers occasionally led to broken offense and bizarre shot selection.
Young’s first playoff journey had some highlights as well. He was a surprise starter for two games against the New Orleans Pelicans in the second round, including the “Curry’s Return Part II” game in Oracle. There was also his surprisingly adequate defense on James Harden in the Western Conference Finals after Andre Iguodala went down with injury. Yes, that’s right, Swaggy P played a li’l defense:
Kevin Durant is the two-time Finals MVP, which is why he may have an inside information on who the Most Valuable Partier” on the team is:
Young was rewarded for his year of contributions with an NBA Title. He hit enough threes to provide floor spacing in the playoffs, and played enough defense that by the end he was actually getting complimented on it.
Now, he is no longer Swaggy P...he has been anointed as “El Swag Champ”.
At this moment I Morph into swag Champ pic.twitter.com/jBjPPctio7— Nick Young (@NickSwagyPYoung) June 12, 2018
How would you grade Omri Casspi’s ‘17-’18 season with the champs?
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