It Might Be The Right Time To Move On From Ty Lawson


After two straight lottery-bound seasons, there is sure to be a lot of change coming this summer to the Denver Nuggets organization. Ten straight trips to the Playoffs (2003-2012) breeds elements of pride, excellence and competitiveness, which hasn’t been seen since 2012 — and knowing ownerships’ tendencies, no one is afraid of making a big move to shake things up at the Pepsi Center.

The bottom line is that this core group of players, how it is currently constructed, is not a Playoff team. Even playing to their maximum potential this year, there is no way in seeing an outcome that would plant Denver in the eighth spot in the treacherous Western Conference, above the Oklahoma City Thunder.

There are a lot of moves to be made, but the first (in my opinion), should be to cash in on starting point guard Ty Lawson, while his value is still high.

Now I know from that previous sentence, I may have just become pubic enemy number-one in the city of Denver, but hear me out.

This notion to trade Lawson, someone who has spent his career here in Denver, and has never been the subject of a lot of on the court criticism throughout his career, may initially sound as ludicrous an idea to Denver fans as the Bay of Pigs did to Castro, but this conjecture isn’t coming out of thin air.

Lawson was rumored to be dangled in front of both Indiana and Boston close to the trade deadline, in deals that would have netted Denver either George Hill or multiple first-round draft picks. The Nuggets soon after denounced these talks as false, but there’s plenty of legs to these rumors.

Around the deadline, CBS Sports NBA writers Matt Moore and Zach Harper commented on their “Eye on Basketball Podcast” that Denver might try to package Lawson on draft night in an effort to move up to a top pick, a la New Orleans when they flipped Jrue Holiday.

All these moves would have (and still would) made sense.

Hill would have made sense if Brian Shaw was still here, as the two have a history together from their Indiana days. Boston was clearly in the market for a point guard, as they pulled off a deal for Isaiah Thomas just a few days after those rumors regarding Lawson were reported.

The push to trade Lawson before the deadline was fueled by a couple of components:

1) His value is as high as it’s ever going to be and with the Nuggets being in the rebuilding mode, it’s time to cash in on him as an asset.

The phrase “acquiring assets” is one that’s been tossed around the league a lot recently and that’s the mode Denver should be in. Secondly, based off of his statistical trends from last year to this year, Lawson is at his peak and is now on the downside of his career. That’s not to say he doesn’t have at least five more good years left in him, but his aggressive nature and playing style already is forcing him to adapt and change up his on the court habits.

2. We may already be beginning to see the effects his aggressive style of play on his body and how he is adjusting his offensive philosophy to prolong his career.  

Lawson will be 28 years-old at the beginning of next season, which is usually around the time of the peak, and the start of a downward trend among NBA players — in terms of athleticism and skill. His small 5’11 frame takes a lot of abuse, especially considering his style of play, which involves a lot penetrating and driving into the paint — usually occupied by seven footers. A lot of Lawson’s drives result in fouls where he’s falling to the floor, which may contribute to an accelerated decline into his early thirties.

His aggressive play has (surprisingly) not taken a huge toll on his body yet, except for an ankle injury that he suffered last season and since lingered. However as he gets older, his aggressiveness and athleticism that he relies on may dwindle and there is evidence that this process may have already begun.

Here’s a breakdown of Lawson’s offense when he’s in the restricted area among those opposing bigs, his shot selection from there, his penetrations and his overall driving efficiency from the 2013-14 campaign, compared to his 2014-15 stats. I split this years stats into “under Brian Shaw” and “under Melvin Hunt“:

Lawson is also getting to the line less. This year he’s averaging five free-throw attempts per-36 minutes, while last year that number was up to 6.6 attempts.

There are a couple trends here that are important to take note of and consider.

First, Lawson’s drives per-game have gone up, which is a positive that he is still being aggressive on the offensive end. However, he’s not shooting on these penetrations as much as in the past or as well. His percentage of field-goal attempts in the restricted area has gone down roughly five-percent from last year, and his field goal percentage on drives has also decreased; as well as his free throw attempts, which was previously noted. Finally, Lawson’s scoring on penetrations has gone down about a point per-48 minutes from last year to this year.

Lawson is also getting to the line less. This year he’s averaging five free-throw attempts per 36 min, while last year that number was up to 6.6 attempts.

What do all these numbers tell us about how Lawson’s game is evolving?

Lawson is still penetrating the ball at a high rate, but he’s not scoring at the rim at the same rate or consistency that he once did. He’s resorting to more drives and dishes to Denver bigs or shooters instead of absorbing contact, getting to the line and trying to score the ball. That trend is somewhat expected as a player’s body takes more and more of a beating, and it will be interesting to see what these numbers look like a year from now.

Here, is a Lawson drive from last weeks game in Houston. Lawson seems to have a pretty clear path to the hoop as he gets a step on plus defender Patrick Beverley, but he pulls back and elects to pass up the scoring opportunity.

If this was Lawson a year, or two years ago, this is probably a shot attempt at the rim, but this is an example of his decline in field-goal attempts in that restricted area that was referenced earlier.

Lawson also passes up on a open lane against an average defender in Pablo Prigioni, but one he should have no problem elevating over or even drawing a foul from.

3. Lawson’s production has become replaceable.

Under interim head coach Melvin Hunt, backup point guard Jameer Nelson is outperforming Lawson both offensively and defensively. Take a look at Lawson’s and Nelson’s per-36 minute stats Under Hunt (per

Lawson: 12 games, 11.7 ppg, 10.2 apg, 38.8 fg% 31.3 3p%

Nelson: 12 games, 20.1 ppg, 6.0 apg, 53.6 fg% 43.5 3p% 

It’s a small sample size but a telling one. When you compare how the Nuggets have done under Hunt with Lawson on the court versus how they are with Nelson on the court, it’s eye opening.

Even though the Nuggets lose those three points per-100 possessions with Nelson on the floor (on offense), that small subtraction is something you can live with, especially with how he makes up for it on the defensive end. The other subtraction that occurs with Nelson on the floor is that as a team, the Nuggets pace drop approximately three-points per 100 possessions. Lawson’s reputation as a minus defender, who frequently dies on screen and rolls and is poor on the ball, lives up to its billing here.

Let me be clear, I am in no way saying that Nelson is a more skilled and overall better player than Lawson, because he’s not in any way shape or form and might never be, I’m simply saying that its clear that Lawson’s production is easily replaceable. While players like Gallinari, Foye, Faried, and Nelson having thrived in a more free-flowing system like Hunt’s, Lawson’s production has inexplicably suffered.

Even though the Nuggets lose those three points per-100 possessions with Nelson on the floor on offense, that small subtraction is something you can live with, especially with how he makes up for it on the defensive end.

Heres a look at Lawson’s averages with the two coaches he’s played under this year:

With Shaw: 16.3 ppg, 9.8 apg, 44.5 fg% 35.6 3p% -3.9 NetRtg (every Nugget except Nurkic was a negative.

With Hunt: 11.2 ppt, 9.2 apt, 3.4 fg%, 28.6 fg% 6.9 NetRtg (collection of everyone playing better around him)

The only explanation for this steep decline is that Lawson has somewhat mailed it in, which is pretty discouraging to see — especially with guys like Gallinari and Faried, who struggled under Shaw, and are now excelling and playing their butts off under Hunt. It’s also odd how in Hunt’s more open, free-flowing system, the aforementioned Gallinari, and Faried are excelling, while Lawson who has alway thrived in a system like Hunt’s is struggling so much.

The Lawson situation is an interesting one and one that Nuggets fans should keep an eye on. Lawson’s had his fair share of off the court problems, which have been closely documented and largely led to his initial placement on the trade block in the first place. He was arrested for DUI on January 23rd, he and was MIA from the team’s first practice back after the All-Star Break — missing a flight back from Vegas.

Early Tuesday, ESPN($) came out with an informative piece where they polled 25 league executives, coaches, and players who ranked the starting point guards in the NBA from 1-30.

Lawson clocked in at 14th on that list, which would qualify as average. Here’s what an anonymous coach had to say about him:

"“He should be in the top tier in terms of natural ability. He has unguardable speed when he wants to. But he does bail you out sometimes by shooting jumpers. The mental makeup is one of his biggest issues. He needs to embrace who he is — and drive it down their throats. Then they’d fear him. But sometimes he doesn’t play with that intensity and settles.” — NBA assistant"

Point guard is the deepest position in the league, and factoring in his current age, statistical trends, and the current and impending value Lawson has as a trade asset, the Nuggets might do well in moving their starting point guard while they can still get top dollar for him.

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