Is Ty Lawson the Final Piece to the Houston Rockets’ Championship Puzzle?
Daryl Morey is slowly becoming the Warren Buffet of the NBA.
He convinced the Thunder to trade him one of the best players in the NBA for a song, and he has bought low again with troubled point guard, Ty Lawson.
Lawson was arrested for the second time in six months for DUI last week, and with his value at its lowest ever, the Nuggets decided to ship him to Houston along with a second-round pick for a lottery-protected first-rounder and a package including Kostas Papanikolaou, Nick Johnson, Pablo Prigioni and Joey Dorsey.
Not only did the Rockets get Lawson for a bargain, but according to Zach Lowe, Lawson agreed to make the final year of his contract non-guaranteed, so the Rockets can waive him prior to the 2016-2017 season if he doesn’t work out either on or off the court. This makes Morey’s low risk move even more low-risk, and if Lawson ends up turning his life around after his court-ordered stint in rehab, this move could get Houston over the top in what has become an arms race in the NBA’s Western Conference.
Lawson’s value was already low even before his first DUI arrest earlier this year. He hasn’t eclipsed an Effective Field Goal Percentage (eFG%) of more than 47.5% since the 2012-2013 season, he shot a career low 34% from three-point range last season, and even his free throw shooting dipped last year to 73%.
However despite his low shooting numbers in 2014-2015, and despite having to serve as the default number-one scoring option in Denver, Lawson still managed to average 9.6 assists per game last season, and had an Assist Rate of 43%. Those numbers ranked him third and sixth in the league.
Now that he is on a team with the best shooting guard in the game and one of the NBA’s best centers, Lawson has the tools at his disposal to turn around his regressing numbers. His nERD ranking last season was only 1.6, meaning he would have added 1.6 wins above .500 to an otherwise average team, but despite his poor season he finished just outside of the top 50 in PER for the 2014-15 season.
Like A Glove
Now a Rocket, Lawson’s unique skill set of being a bull in transition and a top-notch facilitator will fit well in Houston’s fast paced system. According to NBA.com, Lawson ranked 17th in the NBA last season in transition points, and of those 17 players only nine of them had a better transition field goal percentage than Lawson.
Lawson’s pick and roll ability will also fit perfectly in Houston. He ranked 15th in the NBA in points off the pick and roll, and had the ninth best field goal percentage on pick and rolls among those 15 players last year. The Nuggets also scored 13.9 points per game on Lawson’s drives to the hoop last season, which was good for fourth in the league.
But of course Lawson’s time dominating the ball in Houston will dip severely now that he is on a team with James Harden. Harden scored 583 points in isolation last season, which led the league by leaps and bounds. The next closest was Lebron James at 424. Harden was also second in the NBA behind only Russell Westbrook in points in transition and sixth in the league in points off pick and rolls according to NBA.com.
However, Harden had a Usage Rate of 31.3%, and he led the league in minutes played last season. Dwight Howard had fewer post up points than his teammate, Donatas Motiejunas, and while Trevor Ariza is a solid third option, at this stage of his career he is not going to create his own shot very often. Lawson gives the Rockets an extremely credible third-, or even second-option offensively when he is on the floor, and even if he comes off the bench, which is a plausible scenario with the re-signing of Patrick Beverley, Lawson gives the Rockets the ability to avoid playing Harden 40-plus minutes per game, and it gives them another player who can create offense for himself.
With Lawson and Harden on the floor together, teams won’t be able to sag off Harden when he has the ball in his hands in crunch time. Plus, even if they bring Lawson off the bench, it gives Houston some much-needed scoring in the second unit. Houston ranked 24th in the NBA last season in bench scoring according to HoopsStats.com, and it might have been worse without the midseason trade to bring over Josh Smith, who is now in Los Angeles with the Clippers. Lawson will absolutely be on the floor in crunch time for the Rockets though, and even if he ends up standing in the corner awaiting a pass from Harden for a corner three pointer, in his career Lawson shoots 39% from the corner three-point line according to NBAsavant.
Lawson fits in well with Houston and has shown in the past that he can take his game to another level. In his last 13 playoff games, Lawson averaged 20 points and 7 assists per game, he had a True Shooting Percentage of over 54%, and in the 2012-2013 postseason, he led the playoffs with a 35.6 Assist Percentage.
Lawson’s off-the-court issues are severe. Entering rehab for 30 days is only the first step in getting back in favor with the league and the law. However, by agreeing to waive his contract’s guaranteed status for the 2016-17 season, he is putting everyone on notice that he has all the motivation needed to resurrect his career in Houston.
If he has a good year for the Rockets, both in the regular and postseason, he will almost definitely be on the roster after next season, and he also gives himself the opportunity to cash in on a big new deal if he plays well enough. It could easily be a win-win-win for all parties involved in the trade.