Ty Lawson Must Be Leader of Young Denver Nuggets
Lawson recorded a team-high 16.7 points and 6.9 assists last season, but after Ryan Parker of The Denver Post reported about his physical harassment and criminal mischief charges on Monday evening, it's crucial that Lawson turns it around and becomes the model player Denver is paying him eight figures for through 2016-17.
The Nuggets are coming off a franchise-record 57 wins, although key players Andre Iguodala, Kosta Koufos and Corey Brewer are no longer with the franchise. Since Lawson is the point guard running the show, he faces the challenges of getting ample production out of his teammates as well as developing into an elite playmaker on both ends of the floor.
If Denver is going to return to the playoffs for an 11th-consecutive season, Lawson is going to have to put forth an All-Star caliber year.
Generating More Plays on Offense
The Nuggets have one of the deeper teams in the league, and Lawson should continue to distribute the basketball. However, Denver lost its third (Iguodala) and fifth (Brewer) leading scorers from last season, as both players could put up points by attacking the basket and launching it from three.
Randy Foye and Nate Robinson should help along with likely increased minutes for Evan Fournier, but it won't be the same. Foye doesn't penetrate and finish like Iguodala, Robinson will only come in when Lawson needs a rest, and Fournier is still maturing and doesn't have Brewer's athleticism.
The dribble-drive motion offense won't work as effectively without their former perimeter players. In fact, the system may not even be utilized at all under new head coach Brian Shaw. But Lawson will still be the main guy driving to the basket and kicking it out to his shooters when the help defense arrives.
This will ultimately help Foye, Fournier and Wilson Chandler shoot over 40 percent from three again next season. And if Danilo Gallinari keeps getting better from behind the arc, the Nuggets should improve upon their 25th-ranked 34.3 percent three-point shooting from last season.
Lawson, who has the NBA record for the most consecutive three-pointers made to start a game, should also consider taking more deep shots. He has shot 38 percent from long range in his career, and most of the time, he pulls the trigger off the pass when it's kicked out or on a ball reversal.
However, he's shown that he can make it off the dribble coming off the high-ball screen when he's given space. Plus, his percentages from the wing last season were about the same as they were from mid-range compared to three-pointers.
If that becomes part of Lawson's routine game and he doesn't go to the elbow as much, it would force defenders to guard him tighter. Then he would have an easier time penetrating the lane with his speed and finding Kenneth Faried and JaVale McGee for the alley-oop dunks.
Defending the Best in the West
It's no secret that point guard is one of the premier positions in the Western Conference, but the top-tier players do more than just score and control the tempo; they must be able to defend as well.
Not only did Iguodala and Brewer force 1.74 and 1.44 steals, respectively, last season, but they were also two of Denver's best lock-down defenders and shot-contesters. With their absence, as well as the fact that Andre Miller is 37 years old and Nate Robinson is 5'9", Lawson now has an increased responsibility on getting stops in 2013-14.
Granted, Lawson has tremendous speed and quick feet, but he's only 5'11" and can't let players like Stephen Curry light it up against him. Curry scored 24.3 points in the first round of the 2013 playoffs against the Nuggets this past season.
Whether he needs more practice at getting around the screen-setter, or if the communication has to improve with his teammates, Lawson must be better at fighting through picks. Too many times the Nuggets switched on defense last year, which led to a soft cushion for an open shot or a couple quick passes for the opponent with the rotating defense falling behind.
Plus with Iguodala gone, Lawson doesn't have the luxury of taking a night off and guarding more defensive-oriented shooting guards like Thabo Sefolosha. Lawson will now get Russell Westbrook and the other dynamic point guards all the time.
Luckily for the Nuggets, Shaw has a history of developing young players, as he did a superb job with them in Indiana over the last two years. But if Lawson doesn't get better on the perimeter, Denver's weakness will stand out more in 2013-14.
Making the Play in the Clutch
Lawson was a big part of that. When he's in the pick-and-roll and gets the switch on the screen, he's tough to defend for a power forward or center. Even when it's a solid defender like Sefolosha guarding him, Lawson has proved that he can hit the jumper as time expires.
Along with creating his own shot in isolation, another way Lawson can be effective in the final moment is with Darrell Arthur. Many believe that Arthur is only on the team for defense and will have a limited role, but he is a legitimate player in the pick-and-pop and is the best mid-range shooter of all the post players on the team.
Since most defenders will be focused on Lawson with just seconds remaining, if they double-team him as he bursts to the rim, he can quickly kick it to Arthur for the 16-footer at the elbow. Sure, having Arthur take a last-second shot may not sound appealing, but as a secondary option shooting from a spot where he was over 62 percent from last season, it's a positive play.
With chemistry being of the main questions heading into next season, Lawson must demonstrate leadership in keeping the transition period as efficient as possible. This means elevating his play, making his teammates better and no more off-the-court incidents.
Will Ty Lawson make the 2014 All-Star Game?
It's Ty's time to grow from a star to a superstar.
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