The whiz kid
Ty Lawson majored in exercise and sports science at North Carolina, but he uses a math analogy when comparing the difference between college and the NBA.
"College was like 1 + 1," the Nuggets rookie point guard said. "This is like calculus."
If the preseason represented a pop quiz, Lawson aced it, averaging 10.6 points, 3.1 assists and 2.3 steals, while shooting 56.5 percent from the field.
Perhaps even more impressive was the fact that he committed just seven turnovers in seven games. To put that in perspective, his veteran mentors Chauncey Billups and Anthony Carter combined for 37.
"The downside to playing young guys is it usually leads to mistakes," Nuggets coach George Karl said. "This rookie doesn’t make mistakes."
Lawson’s ability to take care of the ball while creating scoring opportunities for himself and his teammates is one of the main reasons he’s likely to play significant minutes this season, starting with Wednesday’s opener against the Utah Jazz.
"Ty’s a guy who’s going to cause a lot of problems," Billups said. "We want him to run a lot of pick and rolls and use his speed and find open guys and finish. There’s not going to be a lot of teams that can keep him from doing that. Speed is big, so we’re going to use that."
Lawson could prove to be a huge factor in how the Nuggets fare in the first seven games without shooting guard J.R. Smith, who will be shelved by an NBA-mandated suspension. Smith led Denver reserves with 15.2 points per games last season.
"It’s an unfortunate situation, but it gives me a chance to go out there and show what I can do," Lawson said. "It gives me more of an opportunity be on the court, so I’ve got to seize the opportunity."
Lawson gives Karl and the Nuggets an element they haven’t had since 5-foot-5 guard Earl Boykins was weaving through defenders from 2003-07. At 5-11 and 195 pounds, Lawson brings the same speed as Boykins, but in a more durable package that will help prevent mismatches at the defensive end.
Billups has been impressed with Lawson’s mental makeup as much as his physical attributes.
"A lot of rookies when they make good plays, you didn’t even have to see the play," Billups said. "You know what happened because they’re just so emotional and they’re running back and they’re so happy. (Lawson’s) got a great composure. He stays even-keeled the whole time, which I love. It’s something that reminds me of myself. I love playing with Ty. He’s earned his spot with us."
Despite his steady play in the preseason, Lawson still receives praise through a filter. Billups and other Nuggets players remind him that he’s a rookie, and Karl watches with a critical eye during games and practices.
When Lawson does hear a compliment, it usually comes from assistant coaches Tim Grgurich or John Welch.
"It’s like when rain gets to the leaves and then hits the ground," Lawson said with an understanding smile. "I get the bare minimum at the end."
That could change if Lawson proves capable of being Denver’s primary floor leader off the bench. Until Smith returns, the Nuggets will be looking to replace more than 25 points per game supplied by Smith and Linas Kleiza (free agency) last season.
Lawson and fellow newcomer Arron Afflalo will need to provide an offensive lift over the season’s first two weeks. Afflalo certainly made a good first impression by averaging 10.4 points and making 10 of 21 three-pointers in the preseason.
"If I’m open, I’m going to try my best to take good shots," Afflalo said. "I don’t think one guy’s going to take care of that (scoring void)."
It indeed figures to be a collective effort. Carmelo Anthony is capable of scoring 40 points on any given night, while Billups is adept at knowing when to look for his shot. Kenyon Martin has vowed to be more aggressive at the offensive end this season, and center Nene is the team’s most efficient scorer when those around him are sharing the ball.
"I think it’s better if no one knows where (the extra scoring is) coming from, other than the confidence that it will get done," Karl said. "The more we rely upon team and not define individual assignments, the better we’ll be."