Ty Lawson is setting the league aflame, one dribble drive at a time

In the waning moments of an impressive first quarter in Minnesota, Ty Lawson casually brought the ball up the court as a ready Ricky Rubio, one of the best point guard defenders in the league, stood the lone obstacle between Lawson and the rim. After a one dribble crossover that left Rubio’s legs crisscrossed above the free throw line, Lawson had breached the paint before any Wolves defender had time to register the immanent threat to the basket.

The second a rotating Kevin Love had his foot planted in the restricted area, Lawson was in the air, his hand underneath the ball just long enough for Love’s momentum to carry him out of the passing lane, before a casual, mid-air flip to a cutting Mozgov put the ball in the 7-foot Russian’s hands before Lawson’s feet even had time to hit the hardwood.

The play was over as quick as it began, a bang-bang sequence that would’ve been shocking in its blinding display of skill and brevity if not for the fact that some varying form of that Lawson drive had not already victimized the Wolves just two possessions prior. The fact is that drive, the ease in which it was executed, and the results it produced, has become a staple of Lawson’s game, a weapon teams don’t seem to have an answer for.

Lawson is having a career best start to the season, averaging a ridiculous 22 points and 8.6 assists a game. The bold numbers below represent career highs and the numbers beside them represent Lawson’s rank amongst the rest of the league.

Ty Lawson PER Assist% FTA/game Turnover% Usage Rate eFG%
2011-12 19.4 30.2 3.5 14.7 21.2 53.5
2012-13 17.9 30.2 4.3 14.1 22.3 50.5
2013-14 23.7 (10th) 38.3 (7th) 7.0 (8th) 12.0 25.4 49.4

These gaudy numbers are nearly all built upon a singular foundation from which all of Lawson’s offensive game sprouts, the dribble drive. Per SportsVu, nobody in the league drives as many times per game as Lawson does. He ranks sixth in scoring off of drives and first, by a decent margin, in team points created per game*.

*SportsVU defines a drive as a touch that begins at least 20 feet from the hoop and is dribbled to within 10 feet. Fast break drives are excluded. 

The drive has been the defining attribute of Lawson’s offensive game for a few years now, his speed and adept passing has weaponized every foray into the paint in a way matched by few in the league. And yet, through ten games, he seems to have transcended all past exploits and perfected the craft that so much of his offensive value derives from.

Abusing switches: 

Once Gallinari comes back, and provides a true secondary scoring threat as the screener, this skill will become truly scary. But even Wilson Chandler’s faux Gallo-ness from behind the line and off the dribble is real enough for defenses to switch on occasion, and woe be it on any wing who has the misfortune of getting stuck guarding Lawson.

One wrong move was all it took for Lawson to put Durant on skates here, and once Lawson gets in the middle of the lane with running start, he is near impossible for most bigs to guard without fouling.

Smarter decision-making:

The downtick in Lawson’s turnover percentage and blocks per field goal attempt can be at least somewhat attributed to Lawson’s more cerebral approach to decision making, even as his pace of play on drives usually blurs faster then the defense can think.

Lawson easily bypasses the Thunder’s bigs here, and despite seeing nothing but the seducing openness of the pristine rim in front of him, Lawson knows he’s already far too deep into the paint to attempt a layup and the guillotining arms of Ibaka and Collison behind him curb any desire to try and score.

But Lawson saw this coming, the second he turned the corner on Ibaka he made the decision to pass the ball off to Hickson, a resolution made so fast it could only be a product of instinct. This is the next level of point guard play, where your mind is analyzing situations and weighting options before the play even really gets under way.

Screen Shot 2013-11-19 at 10.32.28 PM

The glide: 

While elite point guards like Rose contort their body’s around the rim in an effort to create optimal positioning for a layup, Lawson does so for passing lanes, leveraging his size as an advantage when it comes to weaving through the trees in midair. When point guards drive and kick, the pass is either whipped on the move or done as a semi-stationary jump pass. Lawson’s drives feature an amalgam of both those tendencies, a mash-up of a play where he jumps, quite literally glides through the air, and waits until the most opportune moment to release the ball.

Look at how “long” Lawson has been in the air – and how high he gets – when the ball finally leaves his hand.

Lawson peak pass

Lawson floats long enough for Love to not only completely leave Mozgov, but also for him to remove himself from the passing lane. This takes an incredible amount of patience, timing, and skillful passing to pull off and yet Lawson does so consistently.

Here again, Lawson beats Westbrook off the dribble in the pick and roll with Arthur and then jumps forward, catching Adams in the air, and carves out a perfect passing lane to the wide open Hamilton behind the line.

Lawson Drive to Hamilton

The best part of the glide is how it fools the weak side help into thinking Lawson is going all-in on a layup attempt, so they often end up abandoning their assignment in order to crash the paint. Lawson is acutely aware of this, and will hang in the air with the ball just long enough for that off ball defender to get both his feet in the paint, as he does with Wilson Chandler’s would-be defender here. Now, when Chandler receives the ball, the help will be too deep in the paint to execute a proper close out.

Screen Shot 2013-11-19 at 4.04.31 PM

The glide works because the defense is constantly taken by surprise, the fluidity in Lawson’s actions can’t be paralleled by a defense forced to constantly react. Lawson never stops moving and every motion has a purpose. When one of the fastest guards in the league no longer has to stop his blitz of the rim to reassess his next move, the defense has no hope of stopping him.

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David Walker

Freshman at FSU. Love the Nuggets, the beach, and the game that involves a ball that occasionally goes into the hoop.
  • heykyleinsf

    He’s elite and always over achieving. I don’t care about Steph Curry and Chris Paul… #1 1 in the NBA.

  • Andrew

    Great stuff. Woulda coulda shoulda, but it would have been great if the Nuggs could have kept AAA and never got Iggy. Ty/AAA and Fournier/Gallo and Chando/Faried and Hickson/Mozzy and McGee (no, I haven’t given up on him). Still missing a dominant, defending PF, but pretty close to a championship team right there.

    • heykyleinsf

      I wasn’t that big of a AAA fan but still agree

      • Andrew

        Yeah, I liked, not loved, him, but he seems to be torching it in Orlando.

  • Sócrates Manzoni

    He’s pulling a Harden on the defensive side of the floor though. He was never gary payton but boy, he is getting torched this year

    • DavidRMC

      Wholeheartedly agree with this. Much like Harden I think the effort the added responsibility (plus the toll from all these drives) on offense is showing up on the defensive end for Lawson, he’s been really bad so far.

  • heykyleinsf

    Knicks lost again.. and they are a mess.
    Melo is facing not only his first losing season in his career..
    but handing us over a sweet lottery pick in an incredibly
    talented ’14 draft class.
    They could get it together at some point..
    but I’m hoping they don’t!

  • Trevor

    I had one of those “when Gallo comes back” moments this morning.