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30Q: Is Ty Lawson Finished?

The Kings desperately need Ty Lawson to step up, but is there anything left to salvage?

Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

It's time once again for our annual series "30Q" in which we answer 30 questions over the course of September as we get ready for the upcoming season.

The Sacramento Kings have collected a colorful cast of players for the upcoming season. Arguably the most noteworthy addition is Ty Lawson. He's only 29 years old, and has manned the point guard spot for playoff-caliber teams in the past. But last season was easily the lowest point of his career. It has been a catastrophic fall from grace for the once highly thought-of Lawson.

His upside is undeniable. It's not true that Lawson was only a product of George Karl considering he had two productive seasons post-Karl under Brian Shaw and Melvin Hunt. Lawson is on a one year deal, much like Rajon Rondo last season. But there is even less risk to the Kings in this situation; Lawson is on a non-guaranteed veteran's minimum deal, so it would literally cost the team nothing to cut ties. Think about that: Lawson basically was only able to get a training camp invite from one of the least desirable free-agency locations in the entire league in a time where unholy amounts of money were thrown around. Nobody wanted him.

And for good reason, because man was last season objectively terrible for him. Lawson posted career lows in PER, VORP, Win Shares, Box Plus/Minus, you name it. He's not the kind of player that you would characterize as someone whose impact goes beyond the box score either; he's not a plus defender, and he's not known as someone who would hustle for loose balls or inspire his team in other ways. Lawson is either visibly good or obviously bad.

That being said, a deep dive into the his usage statistics reveals how much his role changed playing next to ball-dominant wings like James Harden and Paul George as opposed to unquestionably running the show in Denver. The first thing that jumps out is that his three point rate shot up from his career 25% to 30%. Specifically, it was his catch-and-shoot attempts that went up.




























Although he shot a reasonable 35.7% on spot-up threes (pretty consistent with past seasons), spot-up threes made up nearly 20% of his field goal attempts this season. That's a dramatic uptick from past years.

He also simply did not get to the free-throw line as consistently as before. Per 36 minutes, Lawson only got to the free throw line 2.2 times a game, half of his career per 36 minute rate of 4.4. His free throw rate of 24% was also a sharp decline from his career rate of 35%. It shows that Lawson was not attacking the basket with the same frequency as in the past.

Encouragingly, Lawson still had a good assist to turnover ratio last season (2.5:1). But he did not have the same freedom on offense that he is accustomed to.


13/14 Freq

13/14 eFG%

14/15 Freq

14/15 eFG%

15/16 Freq

15/16 eFG%

0 Dribbles







1 Dribble







2 Dribbles







3-6 Dribbles







7+ Dribbles







This chart shows the frequency of Lawson's field goal attempts that came after a specific number of dribbles from last season compared to the 13/14 and 14/15 seasons. Note how many more of his field goal attempts came after 0-1 dribbles in 15/16 compared to past seasons, and how much less of his field goal attempts came after 3-7 dribbles this past season compared to 13/14 and 14/15.

Touch Time Range

13/14 freq

13/14 eFG%

14/15 freq

14/15 eFG%

15/16 freq

15/16 eFG%

Touch < 2 Seconds>







Touch 2-6 Seconds







Touch 6+ Seconds







This is a similar chart, except that it compares the frequency of field goal attempts that came after a specified amount of time with the ball. Again, note many more field goal attempts came after a short time on the ball last season compared to 13/14 and 14/15, and how much more freedom Lawson had to create for himself off the dribble in past seasons compared to last season.

The game tape largely confirms Lawson's newfound status as second banana on the court.

Scenes like this were all too common last season. Harden is the most ball-dominant wing in the NBA, so Lawson was relegated to waiting for spot-up opportunities. It didn't help that the Rockets fired Kevin McHale so early in the season, leading to a bit of team-wide identity crisis.

Here, Lawson acts as a screen-man in an inverted pick-and-roll with Paul George. Using the guard as a screener has become popular in the NBA these days, but that's not Lawson's strength. He is much better with the ball in his hands. But in Indiana, the priority (for good reason) was to let George operate with the ball. So the team had to accomodate Lawson in other ways

Even coming off the bench, Lawson played second-fiddle to the ball-dominant Rodney Stuckey. Like here, watch as Stuckey waves off getting the ball to Lawson, only to give it a few seconds later with a dwindling shot clock.

Moreover, you can see Lawson really struggle to adapt to his new role. There were too many possessions where he played unsure of himself on offense, and it really showed.

Lawson eats the entire shot clock setting up a pick-and-roll, only to passively dump it off to the screener in what might as well have been an iso. Lawson ends up having to put it up himself against a dwindling shot clock. There's no way the "old" Ty Lawson gets stood up by Patrick Patterson in this situation.

Here watch him hesitate before putting up a three point attempt. Continuously second-guessing himself.

Again, with Harden on the wing, you can almost see the gears grinding in Lawson's head as he second-guesses himself on taking Omer Asik off the dribble. He ends up taking the shot but his hesitation ruins the rhythm of the shot. Airball.

When he decided to be decisive, you could find flashes of the "old" Ty Lawson.

That being said, Lawson can't blame all of his issues on role and confidence. Lawson's pullup FG% from two, pullup FG% from three, at-rim FG% and assist-to-turnover ratio were all down from previous years. Lawson simply was not as sharp as he has been in the past seasons, and its on him to put in the hard work this offseason to hone his skillset again.

I don't feel like Lawson's issues were physical. Just based on the eye test, it doesn't seem like he's without the necessary burst to make plays. I think there was a combination of issues at work. He was relegated to a much lesser role, and when he was given the opportunity to make plays, he second-guessed himself too much. And he flat out was not as sharp as he was in the past, whether its shooting the ball or finishing around the basket.

Will the Kings get the "old" Ty Lawson back this season? An optimist will point out that there is nothing in his way. The Kings' point guard corps is a wreck with Rondo gone, Darren Collison facing a suspension, and Isaiah Cousins being a late second rounder in a weak draft. There is no ball-dominant wing for him to defer to; Rudy Gay will likely move back to his pinch-post/post-up role he had under Malone as opposed to the perimeter dribble-drive role he had under Karl, so the perimeter is wide open. For better or for worse, Ty Lawson will be the go-to man in pick-and-rolls and perimeter attacks. Rondo returned to form (well, his 2012 pre-injury form, not his defensive dynamo 2010 form) after his disastrous Dallas stint under a new offensive system, why not Lawson?

I'm not convinced. Confidence is fleeting in the NBA, and Lawson's was shot last season. The Kings figure to feature DeMarcus Cousins heavily in the post, which means that Lawson will have to be much better off-the-ball than he showed. Perhaps a ball-dominant post player you can run pick-and-roll with is different enough to a ball-dominant wing that it changes the dynamic with Lawson, but that remains to be seen.

And that's not even touching his off-court issues. No less than four DUIs in his career plus a domestic violence charge is a freight train of baggage to bring to a situation where the locker room hasn't exactly been stable. Lawson insists that he's not an alcoholic, and that his problem is getting behind the wheel while drunk. But Zach Lowe reported that Lawson's ways were a source of worry for the Nuggets even when he was good. Addiction to alcohol can become central to someone's identity; being drunk just becomes a part of who they are, and that's not a trait that goes away without blood, sweat and tears. Lawson claims to have learned from his stint in rehab, but the onus is on him to prove it.

All-in-all, how high the Kings can climb the standings depends on how good Lawson is this season to an uncomfortable degree. No other new addition has the same kind of talent that Lawson possesses. But Lawson has not shown the focus and good decisionmaking necessary to make the kind of comeback we're talking here. If he does return to form, it will be a complete 180 from the level of character he has shown. But this is Sacramento, the land where guys like Vernon Maxwell, Bonzi Wells, and Ron Artest were all given fresh starts. The ball is completely in Lawson's court now.