They Smell Like the Future: Ty Lawson

Posted by Rob Mahoney on June 25, 2009 under Commentary | Read the First Comment

Photo by John Biever/SI.

UNC Junior
6′0”, 197 lbs. (Combine measurements)
21 years old
Point guard
Projection: Mid-late 1st round

It’s tough to pick apart Ty Lawson’s game.  Most of the counter arguments to claims of Lawson’s success to come in the NBA are largely circumstantial.  He’s a small point guard, but Chris Paul has shown that height doesn’t have to stand in the way of talent.  He did play for a fast-paced offense at UNC, but he’s hardly unique in that respect, and the pace doesn’t make the game tape any less impressive.  Ty Lawson will be a player, that much is certain to me.  Determining his true ceiling may be the more difficult part.

On one hand, you could see Lawson capping out relatively early.  His quickness is a huge advantage, but one that will be partially mitigated by quicker NBA defenders.  The 6’0” measurement, while hardly the stroke of death, poises him for an uphill battle on the defensive end.  There’s room for his shooting to improve, but by how much?  There’s room for growth as a playmaker, but will he embrace it?

I’m situated firmly in the other camp.  I think Lawson will be a great starter in the NBA, and though he may never snatch the highest accolades the league has to offer, he’s going to make some team very, very happy.

Lawson is a true point guard, albeit one who isn’t afraid to score.  One of the few things I consistently rag on Jason Kidd for is not necessarily his inability to score, but his lack of inclination.  He’ll get right to the rim for an open layup, and at the last second kick the ball to the corner for an Antoine Wright three.  It’s as if the part of his brain telling him to score has been poked and prodded with a javelin.  Lawson can’t match Kidd’s height, defense, or incredible courtvision, but he does combine some elements of Kidd’s skill set with a more natural ability and willingness to score.  Lawson is a better shooter coming out of college than Kidd was until the last few seasons.  He’s probably a better finisher around the basket than Kidd is now.  The Mavs don’t desperately need Lawson’s scoring ability, but they need a point guard prospect who can take care of all kinds of business.  Sometimes that will entail setting up his teammates, sometimes it will require taking it to the rack, and almost all the time he’ll have to dig in on the defensive end.

As far as “floor generals” go, it’s hard to do worse than Lawson.  He’s won on college basketball’s biggest stage as the snake head of one of the nation’s highest profile programs.  He’s got a very complete set of skills, and enough quickness to make you do a double-take.  Lawson isn’t the best point guard in the draft, but he doesn’t have to be.  He just has to be the right prospect at the right time for the Mavs, which is a distinct possibility if he falls to 24.

Pro-Level Projections:

I’ve asked Jon Nichols of to use his Box Score Prediction System (BSPS) to project career numbers for Lawson.  The values given are career averages per 36 minutes, considering that per minute statistics at least partially eliminate variables such as abnormal playing time, lack of opportunity, etc.  The projections are based on Lawson’s three-year career at UNC.  For comparison’s sake, I’ve dug up some other players who have averaged similar numbers over their careers (click here for an enlarged chart):

(Note: the years indicated in the chart refer to the last year of the season played.  For examples, the 2004-2005 season will be marked 05.)

These are fantastic projections for Lawson.  With Ty’s improved shooting stroke, I can’t help but shake the feeling that he could pan out as a Jameer Nelson-type player.  All three of these comparisons have the makings of solid pros, which is exactly what can be expected from Lawson.  All three are also undersized even by point guard standards, and yet have little trouble turning heads with their talent and production.