Lets get this out of the way first: The Denver Nuggets will trade Ty Lawson before the season starts. Some way, some how, it will get done.
With that said, Lawson is in one of the most unique positions in the NBA right now. He’s just 27 years old and is easily an above-average starting PG. He also has two years left on his deal at just under $13 million per year, nearly $3 million less per year than what Detroit is paying Reggie Jackson. This past season he averaged 15 points and nearly 10 APG, and was the best player on the dumpster fire that was the 2014-15 Denver Nuggets. But despite his strong play, he continued to be a mess off the court. He was late to practices, was arrested on suspicion of a DUI, and publicly said he wanted to be traded. Unsurprisingly, the Nuggets want him out move in a new direction with their rebuilding process.
Lawson was selected by the Timberwolves with the 18th pick in the 2009 draft. However, the Wolves had already selected two other point guards earlier that draft (yes, earlier that same draft), so the Wolves flipped Lawson to Denver later that night in exchange for a first round pick the next year (became Luke Babbitt). Lawson went to Denver and immediately became Chauncey Billups’ backup. He remained in this role until February 2011, when the Nuggets sent Billups to New York in the Carmelo Anthony trade.
Lawson showed promise in his first season playing over 30 MPG, putting up a 16-7 on 49% shooting. His play even earned him a four year - $48 million extension from the Nuggets. The following year he posted similar numbers (17-7-46%) and led the team to the three seed in the Western Conference. Despite a first round loss, the Nuggets were in good position with Lawson as the focal point of the offense.
The following year (2013-14) was even better for Lawson, putting up 18-9 and a career high 1.6 steals. However, question marks were raised at his low shooting percentage (43%) and career high in turnovers (3.2). Lawson’s 2014-15 campaign was not much different. As mentioned earlier, he put up a 15-10, but shot only 44% from the field. The team once again struggled to win games and the front office was done with Ty Lawson as the team’s leader.
The Nuggets are trying to find a trade a partner to unload Lawson on, but they are having trouble dealing him. Lawson is, indeed, a curious case. There aren’t many guys in the league with Lawson's raw stats, but his field goal percentage has dropped pretty much every season of his career. Coupled with that, his three point shooting has dropped every year of his career (except 2013 where he improved by 0.1%). At 34% from three this past season, teams are not nearly as scared by Lawson as they once were and Lawson’s confidence behind the arc is clearly shaken. His 2.7 three point attempts per game was his lowest mark since 2010-11 and his percentage still dropped.
Lawson’s biggest strength is his ability to drive to the basket. He was second in the NBA in drives and fourth in the NBA in team points produced on those drives (per game, all stats from NBA player tracking). Despite his ability to get to the rim, Lawson’s size hinders him from scoring at the rim efficiently. He is 17th in the league in scoring on drives, and shot only 47% when he drove to the basket. For comparisons sake, the top guys in the league shot between 55-57% (at least 5 drives per game). Some notables are Lebron (55%), Dragic (55%), Curry (53%), Rose (53%), and Lillard (52%). While nobody is comparing Lawson to those guys and 47% on drives is nothing to look down on, for a guy who’s struggling behind the arc, it’s imperative that he finished near the basket at better rate.
Defensively, Lawson ranked 67th among all PG's in defensive RPM at -2.36. Against the pick and roll, Lawson gave up .82 points per possession, about the same as Damian Lillard and Tony Parker (who played through injury all year). Lawson is just 5’11” and though he has shown good ability to get steals, he blocks almost no shots (39 blocks in a 419 game career) and bigger, stronger guards continue to have their way against Lawson.
Despite all this, Lawson is still one of the better point guards in the league. However, the Nuggets desperation to unload him might have other teams wondering what’s wrong with Lawson. They used the no. 7 pick to select (point guard) Emmanuel Mudiay, and followed that up with the signing of (point guard) Jameer Nelson to a three-year deal. Lawson’s recent DUI (his second) also tremendously hurt his value. In a league where point guard is by far the deepest position, finding a suitor for Lawson will be tough, but getting good value for him will be even tougher.
In my opinion, the only teams that would be potential targets for a Lawson trade are the Knicks and the Nets. The Knicks just drafted Jerian Grant, but Lawson would be a clear upgrade for them. With Melo back from injury and the additions of Afflalo and Lopez, Lawson would be a massive upgrade at the point guard spot and potentially bring them to a playoff appearance. Considering their lack of a first-round pick, the Knicks should be in full win-now mode. In Brooklyn, the Nets just bought out Deron Williams and are also in need of a point guard. Neither team has any incentive to tank, having already traded their first round picks, and both are under tons of pressure to start winning.
If I was in the front office for either of these teams, I would be buying on Lawson. His contract is up after the 2016-17 season, so it’s not a long-term commitment. And he’s a good enough player to take a chance on if you need a point guard. However, if I was in charge of literally any other team in the league, I would stay away from Lawson and his off-court problems. Lawson is the biggest issue of the NBA offseason yet to be resolved, and we should watch out for his imminent trade.