Before NBA action starts on Thursday night, the reserves for the 2014 All Star Game will be announced and debated over and over and over again.
This season those announcements actually will have something to watch for Nuggets fans for the first time since Chauncey Billups was named an injury replacement in the 2009-2010 season, as Ty Lawson has placed himself in the conversation thanks to a stellar first half of the season.
Things won’t be easy for Lawson though as the Western Conference is stacked with worthy players and may be minus a deserved roster spot due to the fans voting Kobe Bryant as a starter in the game, as it has been rumored that Kobe may play just a few minutes in the game for fear of a fine if he has returned by that time of the season.
So with the decision looming it is time to take a look into Lawson’s candidacy.
THE CASE FOR:
Lawson has been an absolute dynamo on offense this season for the Nuggets, averaging 17.9 points and 8.9 assists per game for an offense that ranks just 0.2 points per 100 possessions from being a top 10 offense in the league.
The 8.9 assists ranks third in the league behind Chris Paul, Kendall Marshall (who has played just 17 games), and Stephen Curry. Lawson’s passing is even more impressive when you look at non-box score stats that the new Sports Vu cameras have given us.
Lawson ranks tied for the league lead in free throw assists per game (passes that led to a missed shot with a foul) with Ricky Rubio at 1.1, in the top 20 in hockey assists per game at 1.5, and second in the league at assist opportunities a game at 18.5. That passing helps Lawson rank fourth in the league in points created by assist per 48 minutes with 28.6 trailing only Paul (34.8), Marshall (31.8) and Rubio (29). Lawson has also assisted on 39.1 percent of his teammate’s baskets while he is on the floor a number good for fifth in the league and third in the Western Conference, again behind Paul (53.5) and Curry (41.6).
As a scorer Lawson has been just as good, posting a true shooting percentage of 55.1, and an effective field goal percentage of 47.4 on his way to those almost 18 points a game. Much of Lawson’s offense has been via the dribble drive this season as he has been almost unstoppable when he gets going towards the rim. Of players with at least 100 drives this season Lawson ranks seventh in field goal percentage at 53.6 percent while driving the ball the second most times in the league this season behind only Monta Ellis. In fact no player generates more points per game for his team per drive than Lawson who helps earn the Nuggets 13.4 points per game via his drives.
In short there have been very few players who have carried such an offensive load as Lawson this year and he has handled it just fine by using his speed and finishing ability to wreak havoc on opposing defenses.
THE CASE AGAINST:
Unfortunately for Denver as good as Lawson has been defensively is almost how bad he has been defensively.
According to 82games.com the Nuggets are defending an astounding 12.5 points per 100 possessions better when Lawson leaves the floor. Now as Chris Towers pointed out to me via Twitter a lot of those numbers can be attributed to sharing the floor so often with Kenneth Faried and JJ Hickson, as the defensive efficiency of lineups that involve Lawson and not Hickson and Faried is just 97.3 points per 100 possessions from.
But the eye test has not been good to Lawson either as he has too often this year been beaten off the dribble or been hung up in screens, which complicates things for Denver as they get caught in rotations that they are unable to make because Hickson and Faried are god awful defenders.
The other thing that will hurt Lawson is the success of a Nuggets team that clearly belongs to him. Denver has been completely inconsistent this season and at points downright bad, and right or wrong a year after winning 57 games opposing coaches won’t look kindly upon that fact. The problems have been far from Lawson’s fault but it is a common occurrence in these situations for players on good teams to be rewarded for success despite potentially having worse numbers than other players in the conversation.
Lawson will be up against players such as Damian Lilliard, Goran Dragic, Tony Parker, Anthony Davis, Mike Conley and DeMarcus Cousins for the available spots (two backcourt and two wildcards) and I ultimately don’t see him beating out enough of those players to make the team in the initial pre-injury replacement rounds.
My guess is Lilliard and Parker grab the two backcourt spots for the West as Parker has been the best player on a Spurs team that has battled injuries to three starters to still be tied for second in the West with Lilliard’s surprising Blazers entering Wednesday’s game. Lilliard gets that winning team boost as well as a boost for being a clutch stud this season to get that second spot.
As for the wildcards I believe that Dragic and Davis will be the calls. Dragic has been the driving force behind the most surprising team in the league this season and continued his strong play even after the loss of Eric Bledsoe and, fair or foul, the Suns 3-0 record against the Nuggets may come into play in the Dragic/Lawson conversation.
Davis meanwhile is one of the most exciting young players in the league, capable of posting a triple double with blocks on any given night, and is also the best player on the team that is hosting the game. If he makes the roster it will be very deserving, it could be argued that Davis has been a top 10 player this season when he is on the floor (for the record I think he has), and honestly it is hard to imagine the 20 year old phenom from the hosting city not making the game.
Lawson may be named an injury replacement down the line but I don’t see his name being called on Thursday night.
What do you think? Will Lawson be named an All-Star? Does he deserve to be named? Who would you keep home for him to get the spot? Please let us know in the comments below.