Resume: 16.4 points, 3.7 rebounds, 6.6 assists (10th in league), 1.3 steals, 34.8 minutes, 49% FG, 37% 3PT, and 82% FT… Team record in games played: 36-25 (2-3 without)… Playoffs: 19.0 points (career best), 2.6 rebounds, 6.0 assists (career best), 51% FG (career best), 32% 3PT, 63% FT, 3-4 record
Did you know that the starting point guards on the last two North Carolina Tar Heels NCAA Championship teams were both selected after one of their teammates in an NBA Draft, and so far both are enjoying better careers than their counterparts? Back in 2005, it was Raymond Felton picked after Marvin Williams. At the time (and still today) this seemed like a head scratcher considering Marvin Williams didn’t even start for North Carolina and because the next 3 picks went Deron Williams, Chris Paul, and Raymond Felton. Let me run this at you again… Atlanta passed on not only future All-NBA caliber point guards Chris Paul and Deron Williams (by far the two best players from the 2005 draft) but also the best player on North Carolina’s championship team, apparently because they felt comfortable going to war with Royal Ivey, Salim Stoudamire and Tyronn Lue as their point guard stable. You aren’t going to believe this, but Atlanta finished 14th in the East that season.
Fast forward to 2009 when Indiana grabbed North Carolina power forward and college basketball icon, Tyler Hansbrough, with the 13th pick. Five picks later Minnesota (pick later traded to Denver) drafted North Carolina point guard Ty Lawson, reigning ACC player of the Year. Just three months earlier, there was genuine panic amongst Tar Heels fans and anyone who picked North Carolina to win the NCAA Tournament in their bracket because Ty Lawson was suffering from an injured Sgt. Hulka.
This is how we arrive at Ty Lawson, ranked number 46 on my list of the top 50 players in the NBA. Let’s flash back one more time the 2009 Draft (we’re done with time travel after this one, I promise), a draft that was rich with point guards. Lawson is topped on my list by only one point guard from that draft and by only 3 players from the 2009 class overall; impressive when you consider that Lawson was selected 18th. Lawson was a steal for Denver at 18 considering he was being brought into a high-octane, fast-paced, full-throttle, all-the-quips-about-speed-and-tempo-you-want type offense, which suits Lawson extremely well. After two years as the back-up to Chauncey Billups, Lawson became the starter and thrived, posting career bests in every statistical category.
You expect a player who gains a bigger role and more minutes to improve statistically, but at just 24 years old Ty Lawson is mature beyond his years. By all accounts he is a great locker room guy, and he already seems to have learned what not every point guard realizes throughout his career. He finds a way to vacillate between being the facilitator of an up and down offense, and also as the Nuggets late game closer. Not every point guard can effortlessly do that. And it’s still not totally there for Lawson. Even though he was probably Denver’s best player in their seven game series against the Lakers (highlighted by a 32 point, 6 assist, 5 rebound gem of a Game 6), he wasn’t great statistically in the “clutch” minutes of the game, whatever that means. I saw Lawson score over 24 points four times in the series, foreshadowing what Russell Westbrook was going to do in the 2nd round.
Remember though, Lawson is only 24 and will be getting much better with a lot of young talented pieces around him, including a shiny new toy in Andre Iguodala. There is buzz in NBA circles that Denver may be able to play spoiler in the west. I seriously doubt they could handle the size of the Lakers or the Thunder trio of Durant, Westbrook and Harden, but for some time Denver should remain one of the most entertaining teams in the league.