Ty Lawson has made great strides towards stardom since being selected with the 18th overall pick in the 2009 NBA draft. After beginning his career in a backup role, Lawson got the chance to be a full-time starter last season, and he capitalized.
Lawson proved to be the leader of the Denver Nuggets last season, but he still has a ways to go before he can be considered an elite point guard in this league; on par with the likes of Chris Paul, Derrick Rose and Rajon Rondo.
Here are five steps Lawson must take to become a true star.
Lawson shot the ball well from deep last season, converting 36 percent of his three-point attempts while making more than one per game.
However, with his diminutive size, Lawson will need to improve his three-point shooting further to become an elite player.
This improvement is even more necessary now that the Nuggets have added Andre Iguodala. Iguodala is a mediocre outside shooter, and his ability to facilitate the offense allows Lawson to operate as a shooter at times rather than as a distributor. To maximize these opportunities, Lawson must further strengthen his outside shooting. If he can get close to 40 percent from deep next season, Lawson will be a force to be reckoned with offensively.
Lawson has two great pick-and-roll options in Kenneth Faried and JaVale McGee. Both big men are highly athletic and capable of finishing both above or below the rim (but preferably above).
The Nuggets are primarily a running team, which is conducive to the speedy Lawson’s strengths. But in order to handle big teams like the Los Angeles Lakers and Utah Jazz, the Nuggets need reliable options in the half-court offense, and the pick and roll is a great place to start.
If Lawson can continue to improve as a pick and roll operator, he will see a significant uptick in his assist numbers, as he will be more able to locate big men slashing to the basket or shooters like Danilo Gallinari spotting up on the wing.
Hugging is not stealing, Ty.
At only 5’11", Lawson struggles to handle the league’s biggest point guards and therefore must rely on his quickness and smarts in order to hold his own on defense.
Based on his blinding speed and overall tenacity, one would expect Lawson to be a formidable ball thief. However, Lawson has averaged just one steal per game during his career. Whereas fellow undersized point guards like Chris Paul and Mike Conley are able to overcome their size deficiencies by constantly harassing their opponents with quick hands, Lawson does not pick up steals at quite the rate that he ought to.
Lawson is a good ball thief, as evidenced by his 1.3 steals per game last season. However, to become truly elite, he will need to become even more of a pest on defense and increase his steal numbers to near the levels of Paul and Conley.
Lawson is a solid free-throw shooter at 82 percent, but he failed to get to the free-throw line as often as he should have last season.
In 2012, Lawson ranked 15th among point guards in free-throw attempts per game. Lawson got to the line at a decent clip, but not nearly as often as would be expected of an elite point guard, particularly considering the frequency with which he attacks the rim.
One of the characteristics that separates the truly elite point guards from simply good ones is the ability to get to and convert at the line. Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, Deron Williams and Chris Paul were all amongst the top six point guards in free-throw attempts last season, and if Lawson wishes to make his way into the same sentence as those elite point guards, he must improve his ability to draw fouls.
Lawson put up huge numbers in the Nuggets’ postseason battle with the Lakers last May, and proved his ability to perform well in the clutch. In order for the Nuggets to succeed in the postseason, Lawson will need to carry this closer mentality into the regular season.
Although Iguodala has shown great closing ability in the past, Lawson is clearly the best offensive creator on this Denver team, and he should be the man with the ball in high-pressure situations.
Lawson must become accustomed to running the show at pivotal moments if he hopes to emulate the success of elites like Paul and Rose, and the first step in accomplishing this is to build a level of comfort in clutch situations.