Denver Nuggets point guard Ty Lawson is in the midst of his best statistical year as a pro. He’s averaging career highs with 18 points, 8.9 assists, 1.5 steals and a player efficiency rating of 20.20 through 38 games played, but will those numbers be enough to avoid getting snubbed for the 2014 NBA All-Star Game?
Denver also spent the offseason replacing George Karl—who led the team to 57 wins last year—with first-year head coach Brian Shaw, who has had his ups and downs thus far. The Nuggets started the season at 1-4 before climbing to 11-6 after a seven-game win streak.
Lawson admitted that he struggled to adjust to Shaw's new system initially, but thinks it will make him a better player in the long run, per Mark Kiszla of The Denver Post:
It’s been a big adjustment. I like to penetrate and touch the paint. It’s a little bit harder when there are bigs in the lane, waiting for the post (pass). There’s really nowhere for me to drive. Now, I’m working on passing inside and then cutting. I never really cut during my first couple years in the league. Now, cutting off the big could actually get me an easier shot, either from the corner or with a baseline layup. This could take my game to another level, make it more multidimensional.
At an even 20-20, the Nuggets sit three games out of the No. 8 seed with the 10th-best record in the Western Conference. But through it all, Lawson has been the most consistent and reliable player by far, and he’s been on a tear in 2014.
Since the end of 2013’s calendar year, Lawson has averaged 18.5 points, 11.7 assists, 3.7 rebounds and 1.7 steals in 10 contests. He’s notched double-doubles in nine of those 10, leading Denver to a 6-4 record over that span.
Despite his individual success, though, Lawson is likely going to get snubbed from the All-Star game for a couple of reasons.
Depth at the Position
The Western Conference backcourt is absolutely loaded with talent.
Also, according to the third returns of NBA All-Star balloting (via NBA.com), Lawson doesn’t even crack the top 10 in Western Conference backcourt voting. He’s behind guys like Kobe Bryant, Jeremy Lin and even Ricky Rubio.
|Western Conference Backcourt Voting (Third Returns)|
|1. Kobe Bryant||844,538 votes|
|2. Stephen Curry||677,322 votes|
|3. Chris Paul||651,073 votes|
|4. Jeremy Lin||471,980 votes|
|5. James Harden||338,788 votes|
|6. Russell Westbrook||260,499 votes|
|7. Tony Parker||195,328 votes|
|8. Damian Lillard||162,363 votes|
|9. Klay Thompson||108,404 votes|
|10. Ricky Rubio||97,265 votes|
The All-Star fan vote only determines the starting lineup in each conference, but it’s still not a good sign that the fans are underappreciating Lawson’s talent.
On top of the ridiculous amount of All-Star-caliber guards out west, there’s a glut of extremely talented frontcourt players who could also spoil Lawson’s appearance on the roster.
With Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge, Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins and Dirk Nowitzki (among others), coaches may decide to reward the depth of big men when voting in All-Star reserves—leaving fringe guards high and dry.
From that perspective, the floor general’s chances of getting in simply continue to dwindle.
Those are the top six teams in the conference standings.
The “team success” argument certainly doesn’t favor Lawson, because the Nuggets are a mediocre 20-20 and on the outside looking in at a playoff spot.
From a sheer wins and losses standpoint, Goran Dragic of the 23-17 Phoenix Suns is a more worthy candidate of earning his first career All-Star berth.
When compared directly with Lawson, Dragic is averaging more points (19.4), less turnovers (2.8 vs. 3.1), shooting a higher percentage from the field (48.8 percent vs. 42.6 percent), a higher percentage from three-point land (36.1 percent vs. 35.3 percent) and has a higher PER (21.05).
Additionally, the Suns are 2-0 against Lawson’s Nuggets this season when Dragic plays (3-0 overall).
The Case for Lawson
While the loaded Western Conference plays host to numerous talented guards—as well as an abundance of skilled frontcourt players—the excess of serious injuries around the league may help Denver’s point guard sneak in.
Bryant has a broken leg, CP3 has a separated shoulder and Westbrook will reportedly be out until after the All-Star break following his third knee surgery in 2013.
There’s a chance that all three of those guys will be sidelined during All-Star Weekend. If that proves to be the case, roster spots will open up for injury replacements.
If Lawson continues to play as well as he has been in January, he’ll make a strong case for appearing in New Orleans on Feb. 16.
As it stands, however, Denver’s mediocre record and the collection of Western Conference guards hint that the 26-year-old North Carolina product will be an All-Star snub, rather than earning his first ever All-Star nod.