It's been more than a month now since I first floated Ty Lawson's name as a potential Blazers draft target. Going back further to the night of the draft lottery I had Lawson as the third most desirable name for the Blazers, behind only RIcky Rubio and Steph Curry.
The biggest gap between Lawson and Rubio/Curry is ceiling. In 10 years, both of those guys could end up multiple-time All Stars; I'm not sure Lawson ever makes it to that stage. But from the #24 position and with a desire to keep his roster relatively intact, it's significantly easier for Kevin Pritchard to make a move for Lawson as a designated Sergio replacement than it is to get to the top 4 or 6 with eyes on Rubio and Curry.
Timeline wise, Lawson may actually be a better fit than either Rubio or Curry. Not only is he a three year college player, he's had extended success and experience in the NCAA tournament, shining under the March Madness glare. He's also, arguably, the most NBA-ready point guard in this year's draft because he spent the last two years playing with nothing but NBA talent: Wayne Ellington, Danny Green, Tyler Hansbrough and, don't forget, potential top 5 pick next year Ed Davis (who is an absolute stud. Draft Ed Davis.). Lawson was the heart and soul of the Carolina run despite playing on a bum foot. When he went down everyone panicked that UNC would be bounced early; when he came back, the Tar Heels cakewalked to the title.
Lawson has passed more tests more frequently than any point guard in the draft with the exception of Olympian Ricky Rubio. From a character standpoint, I have yet to hear anyone raise a question about him.
Add all of those things up, including the fact that questions about his foot might cause a minor draft-day slide, and I think you get a clear picture why the Blazers are interested in Lawson.
As for his workout today, Lawson shot the ball very well, particularly from the right corner, despite being fatigued due to his very busy workout schedule. The chatter in the gym today had Lawson playing significantly better than his next closest competition, Frenchman Nando De Colo. No surprise there. After the workout, Lawson spoke briefly with both Nate McMillan and General Manager Kevin Pritchard, something we haven't seen happen very often (if at all) during previous workout sessions.
The biggest concern I had was the location of Lawson's shooting pocket. He talked today about the extensive work he's put into re-tooling his jumper (he takes 5,000 shots a week minimum) and Blazers scout Chad Buchanan praised his improved shooting over the course of the last year. But Lawson's shot develops somewhat shot-put style. Given his height, this is going to be a concern on the NBA level particularly in the crowded mid-range areas of the court.
Kevin Pritchard didn't answer specific questions about individual prospects today and Nate McMillan was reluctant to talk too much about Lawson but that shouldn't stop us from significantly expanding our understanding of the team's interest in Lawson.
Ty On Ty
As you can see above, Lawson has a big smile and a very engaging personality. He was happy to discuss just about every topic, including his penchant for Sponge Bob Squarepants socks. Sizing up his skills, Lawson noted "I can get open shots because of my speed. You can't get all up on me because I'll go around you. But you can't back off me because I've got a jumper." He also joked that he "wanted to show off my athleticism [in the workout] but we didn't do too much drills where I could go in and dunk it."
In response to questions about why he was working out in Portland, Lawson stated that he had heard from his agent that the Blazers were interested in moving up and that his agent had told him Portland had a history of moving up in the draft. I asked him if he had made any bets with his college teammates about who would get drafted first (remember Wayne Ellington said he'd pick himself second overall) and Lawson said, "Nahh. But we've been talking about it. We pretty much know who's going to get drafted first, it's beteween me and Tyler." The expression on his fact indicated to me that he believes he will go before Hansbrough, which would likely put him in the 12-16 range, if not higher.
Chad Buchanan on Ty
Yesterday, I talked briefly with Chad Buchanan about Lawson before I knew Lawson would be working out today. So be sure to check that out if you missed it. A great coincidence.
Today, Buchanan really broke down in depth the pros and cons of Lawson's game.
Toughness: "Lots of guys that small will get swallowed up but he's also got some physicality to him. He can take some hits from bigger players and still finish plays despite being 6'0" tall. He's kind of built like an NFL halfback and kind of plays that way too."
Character: "Talking to him last night, I think they all bought into their roles this year. Coach Williams' system is a proven system, they all bought into it, guys were sharing the ball, Ty shoots 53% from the field this year, the game is a lot easier when you play together... Obviously had a trememdous season. He's improved his shooting. Good decision-making, really has matured as a player over the last year. It shows out here in settings like this."
Speed: He's got great speed. He's got some physicality despite being kind of undersized height wise. Definitely an NBA player for sure. He's got as much as speed if not more speed north south than any of those other point guards.His speed, if you want to play fast he's going to be pretty effective in our league."
3 years of college experience: "He went back for the right reasons. He knew he had some areas of his game to shore up and he did that. It was definitely a good move for him."
NBA readiness: "Depending on where some of these kids get put, there are some guys that can be picked in the teens, if they are with the right team they could be more successful than maybe a kid who's picked up in the top 7 or 8. Ty is a great example. If you put him on a team that's going to run and gun he's going to be pretty effective."
Defense: "He's going to have to figure some things out guarding some bigger guys [like Tyreke Evans]. Tyreke [Evans] is going to be a unique example because he's going to be bigger than 99% of the point guards in our league. Most guys are going to have trouble with Tyreke's size. In a matchup like that you're going to have to rely on your team defense to help Ty out if guys try to bully him down because of his size. Tyreke is a very unique example, he's 6'5", he's long, he's strong, there's just not a ton of those type of point guards in our league."
Injury concerns with his foot: "We'll have discussions with our doctors about it. Nothing real glaring. It's definitely something we'll look into. He played injured pretty much the whole ACC tournament, he didn't play at all, then wasn't 100% healthy in the NCAA tournament. It's something our doctors will really examine closely and we'll talk about it pretty in-depth."
As a sidenote, I asked Buchanan if he foresees a trend towards smaller, quicker point guards in the NBA. He said...
I think more of the smaller guards can succeed now because the physicality of the game has lessened because of how they officiate the game now. So those guys have a better chance to excel. But I don't think it's necessarily trending that way. I think you see a couple of examples like Jameer and Aaron Brooks but it still comes down to your feel for running the point guard position. Do you understand how to run a team? Do you understand the game? Do you understand how to defend? It all comes down to your overall talent, whether you're small or big.
Nate McMillan on Ty
Throughout the pre-draft process, Nate hasn't wanted to discuss individual prospects in any detail. I had a short chat with Nate today about his perspective on prospect analysis, which I think illuminates some potential interest in Ty Lawson. Here's our conversation...
Do you see postseason success at the college level regularly transitioning into postseason success in the pros? Is there a "playoff" mentality that can get built up during the NCAA tourney?
Yeah, normally those guys that have played in the postseason in college are top picks. It does translate in having a good chance of being successful in the NBA and playing postseason basketball in the playoffs.
When you're playing in those games, you're playing at a high level. The focus and the skill and the talent is much better. Teams have an opportunity to measure you differently than they would during the regular season.
So yeah it does, I think it makes a huge difference in the tournament, making it to the Final Four, possibly having success and being there each year. And where they play at. The conferences they play in, you measure that also.
A lot of analysts have said that the ACB or other European leagues are superior to the NCAA. But don't you think playing under the lights of the NCAA tourney or for a big-time program carries the same, if not more, pressure than playing professionally in Europe?
They've said that. That makes a difference too. When you're drafting a kid from Europe. The league that they played in. The level of competition that they played against.
But our scouts are more familiar with that. I see some games but our scouts will say this league is comparable to the ACC or the development league or division one.
There are a lot of statistical models used to judge players. Lawson seems to score really well in a lot of those. Is that something that you look at personally?
We look at it. That is information for us to have available, as far as stats and size and numbers against certain players or certain teams. That information is available to us.
So you look at it personally? Do you find that statistical models produce some surprises or do they generally confirm your impressions of players?
Yeah. You look at it and it just depends on what you're looking at with that particular player.
[Lawson's] had success, he's played in the finals twice, he's been there a couple times, and they won it. All of that factors in. That's a pretty successful career. To play for UNC you know that their schedule is a tough schedule every year.
All of that factors in when you're making decisions.
Final Ty Thoughts
So what do we know? The stat models love Lawson. Nate was impressed by Lawson's career and sees college experience and success as a "huge" factor in weighing the merits of a draft prospect. Chad Buchanan thinks Lawson is a multi-tool offensive weapon with NBA skills and potentially the best speed in the draft. Lawson presents himself as a high-character, determined personality who is committed to improving his game and who has significant experience leading a team of NBA-quality players.
Taking all of these various viewpoints together, coupled with the timing of today's workout so close to the draft and persistent rumors that the Blazers might be looking to move up, and I think it's safe to say there is significant Blazer interest in Ty Lawson. Enough interest that I am slotting him into the #1 position on my Draft Prospect Board (to be updated tomorrow). This despite the fact that getting Lawson would necessitate a trade up in the draft as it doesn't appear likely that Lawson slides to #24.
But I say that with one MAJOR caveat: Chad Buchanan has now twice said in two days that he believes the ideal NBA system for Lawson is an up-tempo system. Obviously, this stands directly at odds with the type of offense the Blazers run. Although adding Lawson to the team's roster might allow the Blazers to push the tempo a bit more when their second unit is in (Rudy would certainly approve) it's likely that any point guard the Blazers acquire (via draft, trade or free agency) is going to spend a bulk of his time playing a halfcourt game. This could be the determining factor working against Lawson.
In the end, Lawson could turn out to be a player that the Blazers like a lot but don't end up pulling the trigger on because he doesn't quite fit their system or because somebody else loves him enough to snag him before the Blazers get the chance.
It's also very possible that, just two days before the draft, the team hasn't reached an internal consensus on how well Lawson fits.
In any case, there's no question that Ty Lawson was the single most interesting prospect to work out in Portland this year.
-- Ben (firstname.lastname@example.org)