How Good is Ty Lawson?

For the first time in years there is a reason to watch the Denver Nuggets’ summer league team. I cannot wait to see Ty Lawson in a Nuggets uniform, even if it is two sided and made of mesh.

The Nuggets have been interested in Lawson since last year’s draft, but he withdrew his name from consideration after he was pulled over for playing his music too loud. That may not have been a very big deal, but the traffic stop resulted in charges of driving after consuming alcohol and driving with a suspended license. Plus he was only 20 at the time.

That traffic stop may turn out to be one of the best things that ever happened to Lawson.

He returned to North Carolina, won a national championship and patched the one massive hole in his game. Lawson possessed the quickness, vision and demeanor to be an NBA point guard, but his poor jumper was a major issue as he converted only 36.1% of his three point attempts in 2007-08.

To start the 2008-09 campaign Lawson only made two of his seven three point shots and it appeared that he was going to continue to struggle from behind the arc. However, Lawson would go on to convert 51 of his 108 three point shots and finished the season shooting a stellar 47.2%. Those 108 three point attempts convert to over three threes a game so it was not a fluke or statistical anomaly.

Now that Lawson has addressed his outside shot, he is arguably one of the most efficient players I have ever seen. Just look at this report from Draft Express:

“As we put this data together, we weren’t surprised that Ty Lawson excelled from a situational perspective, as he did play for the most potent offense in all of college basketball, but we didn’t expect him to look this good. He ranks first in a number of key categories, including overall FG% (52%), Points Per Possession [PPP](1.13), pull up jump shot FG% (47%), and %shots he was fouled on (16.1%). Though his teammates did a lot of scoring as well, Lawson functioned seamlessly as a complementary scorer. Looking past his efficiency as a shooter off the dribble, he was second in catch and shoot field goal percentage at 48%. From a purely statistical sense, no player on this list scored more efficiently than Lawson.

“We thought that UNC’s transition offense might have given Lawson a decided advantage over some of his counterparts in terms of efficiency, but that wasn’t entirely true. He did get 10% more offense in transition than any of the other players we looked at (an outrageous 38.6%), but his transition PPP of 1.2 is the same as his PPP in spot up situations and not as far above the average as his PPP in pick and roll situations (1.19 PPP, +.29) or on isolations (1 PPP, +.16). Lawson was an incredibly prolific transition player (which is quite an advantage in itself today’s NBA), but he was comparatively better in other areas as well. When you consider that he only turned the ball over on 13.8% of his half court possessions (5th best) and can drive left and right equally well, it seems like Lawson could be an excellent offensive fit on virtually any team, regardless of tempo.

It does not stop there. I read somewhere that Lawson has the second best assist to turnover ratio in the history of the ACC. Lawson shot over 50% from the field in each of his three seasons at North Carolina and he averaged 1.7 points per shot last season. Typically only big men produce points at that level of efficiency. For example Blake Griffin averaged 1.73 points per shot.

Lawson even reclaims the ball more frequently than he coughs it up averaging 2.1 steals a game compared to only 1.9 turnovers. He is not a long defender who parlays his great reach into deflected passes, he actually had the shortest standing reach out of everyone at the combine, he simply has great instincts.

Lawson seems to be a perfect fit for what the Nuggets are trying to do on offense. He can run when the situation present itself, but when games slow down, he can earn you easy points in the half court offense as well either off the pick and roll, penetration or as a shooter.

Draft Express was not the only analysts to find Lawson to be more impressive than his counterparts. ESPN’s John Hollinger found that statistically Lawson was the top prospect in the entire draft (subscription required), even ahead of Blake Griffin. He explains that point guard is the position that is the most difficult to project statistically, but when coupled with everything else we know about Lawson it is clear he is a great prospect.

If you are a Nuggets fan, and you are not thrilled about Lawson coming to Denver, I do not know what to tell you.

The only possible objection I can think of to the trade is that we should not have given up the Charlotte Bobcat’s pick, and I was of that opinion 24 hours ago. I did say I could be talked off that stance though and the more I think about it, the less valuable that pick might be.

The first rounder Charlotte owed Denver, and now owes Minnesota, had some pretty strict protections attached to it. Apart from being protected 1-14 this year, it is protected 1-12 in 2010, 1-10 in 2011, 1-8 in 2012 and 1-3 in 2013 before being completely unprotected in 2014. It is true that in a perfect world Denver could have landed the top pick in the 2014 draft, but what kind of value is that for a team built to win now? In all likelihood that pick gets conveyed next year or in 2011 as a late lottery pick. If Charlotte signs Allen Iverson, the only logical location for him that comes to mind, that pick may end up being in the mid teens next year. I will take Lawson over that.

The other issue Denver faces with Lawson is how does he fit in with the Nuggets rotation? For a team that was so close to reaching the NBA Finals, will he be a difference maker?

Those questions are a little more difficult to answer.

For starters there is a quote in the Denver Post from George Karl that gives us some insight into what he is thinking for next season.

“My hope is we can get A.C. back and Chauncey and have Ty as a guy that will work hard and prove that he’s got to play sometime.”

I have no problem with bringing Anthony Carter back next season. He has been on one year minimum salary deals the past two seasons and I doubt he will command anything more than that this summer. On the other hand if Lawson is tied to the bench while Carter plays 22.9 minutes a game again next season, I may have a coronary.

I realize the danger in telling a kid that he will come in and get playing time, and hopefully that is all Karl is doing here, but I believe as a rookie Lawson can be a more effective player off the bench than Carter. Carter has been a good to great defender and can collect assists quickly when Denver is running, but my concern is he is 34 years old. How much longer can he stay in front of opposing point guards? I think we saw some cracks in Carter’s defense last season although he definitely had his moments (hounding Dywane Wade in Miami anyone?).

Even considering the defensive drop off from a 32 or 33 year old Carter to Lawson if Lawson is the third string point guard and Anthony Carter is going to play 20-24 minutes a game next season, then Lawson becomes just another prospect for the future. Any improvement the Nuggets make on their conference finals appearance last season will have to come from an upgrade somewhere else on the roster and there is a possibility they shot their wad on improvements last night. Any additional moves will most likely require delving deep into luxury tax territory and I am not sure Stan Kroenke is willing to do that.

Before you start envisioning Lawson collecting DNP-Coach’s Decision after DNP-Coach’s Decision keep in mind whether or not AC comes back next season is not entirely up to George Karl. Management may choose to let Carter go and force Karl to play Lawson. At this point, who knows what will shake out?

One thing that Lawson has going in his favor if he is in the rotation is Karl’s love of playing two point guards at once. We might see Lawson and Billups on the court together quite a bit and I believe with their ability to create for themselves and others and they way they can both shoot, they will play off of each other very well.

We may not know if Lawson will play 20 minutes per game next season or four. We do know Denver acquired a player who is highly capable who might be running the point in Denver for the next decade. I think Lawson compares favorably to Jameer Nelson right now and has a chance to be even better than that in two or three seasons.

For the 18th player selected in a terrible draft, that is pretty good.

Moving on briefly to the 34th selection, I was beside myself when the Nuggets passed on DeJuan Blair, but I have heard some rumblings about the cash considerations that Denver received from Houston for Sergio Llull that has helped me accept the decision Denver made. All I will say is Denver was very well compensated by Houston for Llull. (Update: It has been announced elsewhere so I will post it too.  Denver received $2.25 million, a record payout for a second round pick for Llull.)  For a team who is looking to scrape together money here and there to hang onto Chris Andersen and as dissatisfying as it was to hear they sold their pick with a player like Blair on the board I think they made the right move.

Of course, if Blair turns into Charles Oakley with a back to the basket game, I reserve the right to be retroactively furious.

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  • runningdonut

    The argument is it’s difficult to evaluate him based on UNC’s system and the strength of their team. Regardless of that the statistics are staggering – 47% from three? Wow. The only problem I see is how will his defense translate to the NBA. If you keep him and AC then you potentially have 2 undersized guards getting constantly beat while gambling for steals. Obviously I’m, very excited to see him play in summer league.

  • KC Gunner

    I agree that his 3pt shooting % is some cause for optimism, but let’s not necessarily get carried away — unless he was shooting his 3s a foot or so behind the line, those are 2pt buckets in the NBA.

  • Othe33

    Let’s not forget GK’s ties to the Carolina Blue. This means that he will secretly love Lawson while reaming him in the style of his mentor, Larry Brown. It’s important to have high expectations at this point, to demand a great deal from this young man. He is in an ideal position for a rookie – full of talent, an opportunity to learn, and the potential for great success (and the corresponding large $$$).

    I couldn’t be more excited about the pick. I won’t be sorry to see AC go. He did his best while he was rotation-worthy. Hopefully that won’t be the case much longer.

  • BeefySwats

    Hey Jeremy,

    Thanks for the excellent writeup. I am beyond excited for Ty Lawson, though I sincerely hope he doesn’t turn into another Earl Boykins.

    We all remember those years.

    His athletic ability and willingness to be mentored by Chauncey really says to me that he can be groomed into a Chris Paul type of player and if the Nuggets can truly get that out of Lawson, this is truly a championship caliber team over the next 3-5 years.