Ty Lawson. The enigmatic Ty Lawson. With Ty Lawson you get a guy who is going to give you 15-3-10 every season. With Ty Lawson you get a guy who you can’t depend on to make the correct decisions off the court. As a general manager, it’s the ultimate conundrum. Rocket’s GM Daryl Morey has sided with the former in this argument. Morey acquired Lawson last week in a deal that sent many key role players from last year’s 56 win team, and an always-coveted 1st Round Pick, to Denver for the star point guard. At first glance, it seems like Dork Elvis jipped yet another team in his quest to build the world’s most dominant team. A combination Joey Dorsey, Nick Johnson, Kostas Papanikolaou, Pablo Prigioni & the aforementioned 1st round pick doesn’t even hold a candle to the value of Lawson. Lawson is, off-court issues notwithstanding, a franchise point guard with a relatively inexpensive contract. Lawson signed a 4 year, $48 million deal with the Nuggets prior to the 2013-14 season, a boon now considering what other elite players at his position are making. But the reason why Lawson was available to the highest (only?) bidder is the off-court issues. Lawson was arrested twice this year for DUI, a major red flag for any competent business. That certainly raises red flags in terms of Lawson’s maturity and dependability. Did Houston potentially give up too much for a troubled player? Did Denver not get enough for its franchise player?
For starters, lets break down who Lawson is as a player. Lawson is a player more on the smaller side, standing 5’11. It’s a testament to his ability that he was still a first rounder in spite of his height, as NBA teams tend to stray from players under 6 feet. Lawson has also been described as a jack-of-all-trades, master of none type. Lawson is at his best when he’s isolated on a defender, as his top-notch speed is often too much to handle for most point guards. Lawson is a very effective 3 point shooter, and when he does beat his man off dribble he is more than able to pull up from mid-range and knock down the jumper. And, despite his height, he’s adept at finishing inside. And as evidenced by his assist total, he’s also a solid passer. But Lawson doesn’t do any of these things at a truly elite level. Lawson is a career 36% 3-point shooter, an average number compared to other players at his position. And while his assist numbers were at a career high this past season, his scoring output took a slight hit. Lawson proved this season that his role would be better suited as a Robin compared to that of a Batman. Now in Houston, Lawson may now just be an Alfred Pennyworth.
Denver was more than happy to move Lawson. The team has gone into pull fledged rebuild mode, and after selecting point guard Emmanuel Mudiay in this years draft, Lawson was expendable. Mudiay is expected to become the face of the franchise, a role I believe he is more than capable of doing, but the players acquired for Lawson are most likely not going to be long term players for Denver. The player with the best shot of sticking in Colorado long term is Nick Johnson. Johnson was a second round selection by Houston last year, and he spent the majority of last season in the NBA D-League. However, after Patrick Beverley‘s wrist injury, Johnson was called up to the bigs and showed in limited action that he can play in the NBA. Johnson is a high flyer who doesn’t have much of a jump shot, but he plays decent defense and with coaching could perhaps be a solid 6th man. The rest of the players were generally included in the deal for salary cap purposes. Joey Dorsey shouldn’t be anything more than a 5th big man. Kostas Papanikolaou is an average “3-and-D” small forward, the type of player that’s en vogue in the league. But Papanikolaou is nothing special and shouldn’t be expected to contribute major numbers. And Pablo Prigioni has already been released, as the aging veteran was unlikely to stick around on a potentially porous squad. The move for Denver was more about opening up a starting spot for Mudiay while removing a player some in the media had deemed a “cancer”.
If Lawson is able to avoid suspension, he should be expected to start from Day 1. Patrick Beverley was just resigned to a 4 year, $25 million deal this offseason, but he’s not the franchise point guard Houston had been coveting. Beverley is an incredible on-ball defender, but outside of his defense, he doesn’t bring much else to the table. He is an above-average passer, but his shooting leaves much to be desired. And with James Harden the primary ball-handler, Beverley wasn’t a great fit in the pace and space offense Kevin McHale runs. And while Lawson isn’t a great 3 point shooter in his own right, he should be expected to knock down more 3’s than Beverley. How will Lawson respond now that he’s not the primary ball-handler? Considering how tight-knit the Rockets team is, and Lawson’s friendship with Harden, you shouldn’t expect there to be too much of an issue on Lawson’s side. Lawson the cancer should also be a thing of the past, as winning generally cures most locker room debauchery.
The argument can be made that Houston now has the best team in the Western Conference, if not the entire league. A starting lineup of Dwight Howard, Donatas Motiejunas, Trevor Ariza, Harden, & Lawson is possibly the best in the NBA. Throw in Terrence Jones, Beverley, Marcus Thornton, Corey Brewer, K.J. McDaniels, Clint Capela, & Sam Dekker and Houston might just have the deepest team too. Golden State kept the core of their team together, and continuity only makes a team better. San Antonio can never be counted out, especially after acquiring LaMarcus Aldridge, which may be the best move of the entire offseason. The Clippers finally added some depth, althought their front-court is still rail-thin. And then there is Oklahoma City, who is about as talented as any team in the association too. But after acquiring Lawson, Houston should be considered the best team in the West, and a championship is right in their grasps.