I can distinctly remember how good PG No. 5 for the North Carolina Tar Heels was on EA Sports' now-defunct NCAA March Madness video game series in 2009. The amount of wizardry I could pull off with this mythical point guard on this virtual game was incredible. His speed was unfair, his ability to finish at the rim was absurd and he could steal anyone's dribble. My friends would hate it when I played with UNC, because they knew that the end would soon be near.
"Hey man, you can't play with North Carolina on the game anymore, bruh. You're cheating with Ty Lawson, go play with someone else or I'm going home."
Yes, I'd seen the man play in real life, both in college and in the pros. I've seen Lawson's rise since he's been in the league for five years. In 36 games thus far, Lawson is averaging career highs in points, assists, steals and free throw attempts. Lawson even leads the league in points created off drives (courtesy of ESPN's David Thorpe and SportVU) in a time where point guards are in abundance more than any era in NBA history. That's pretty good.
But I want more from Ty Lawson.
I want Game 3 of the NBA Playoffs vs. Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors Ty Lawson.
It's like the time I played with him on the video game. Once I've seen the man do it with my own eyes, my expectation level has been set. Now, that doesn't mean I expect the man to put up 35 points and 11 assists like he did in that magical game in Oakland last year, but I wonder about what could be on the horizon for Lawson and why the horizon isn't quite here yet.
Here's just a couple of things to think about.
He's never played with a quality big man in his entire career
Quick, name the best big man Ty Lawson has ever played with? Kenyon Martin? Nene? Kenneth Faried? J.J. Hickson? Javale McGee? JAVALE MCGEE! (Shaq, what up.) What's fascinating about this pu pu platter of random big men is how good Lawson can make these guys look offensively (that's what getting to the rim so often will do.) While all of those bigs are capable of executing the pick-and-roll decently, they've all been flawed. None of them are known as proficient perimeter shooters, asking any of them (besides Nene at times) to do anything besides dunking is a chore and, of course, JAVALE MCGEE! (What up, Shaq.) The fact that Lawson's currently making it work with Faried and Hickson almost feels like a miracle.
He's always had to share the point guard responsibilities
For some reason, it's always felt like the Nuggets have never quite felt comfortable in giving Lawson the reins. First it was Chauncey Billups, then it was Raymond Felton, then it was Andre Miller. Even now, with Miller's impending exodus seemingly imminent, the Nuggets are often playing three point guards -- Lawson, Nate Robinson, Randy Foye -- at the same time. This may be more about using existing talent while overlooking physical deficiencies, but for the longest time, Lawson's always had to share the show. Imagine if he had full command of the ball-handling duties like several other well-known point guards.
He faces an uphill climb for recognition in the Western Conference
Denver is one of those West teams that you wonder how good they would be in the East. Currently at 20-18, this Nuggets team would be the No. 3 seed in the East, and you could probably tack on 4-5 more wins onto that record because they'd play East teams more often.
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This lack of recognition goes down to Lawson's level as well. His spotlight is noticeably dimmed by playing in the same conference as Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, Curry and Tony Parker, not to mention members of the new crop of young-gun point guards like Damian Lillard, Eric Bledsoe and Trey Burke. (Also: Don't forget Mike Conley and Jrue Holiday). Saying Lawson is lost in the shuffle is an understatement. He feels like a needle lost in a haystack.
Lawson's absolutely playing at an All-Star level, but unless he somehow squeezes into the Sunday night festivities on the back end (injuries to Westbrook, Paul and Bryant may open up three guard spots) he will be left out. It doesn't seem fair to see Lawson in this position. He deserves better, from his organization and the talent around him, but also from himself.
Why? Because he'll always be the elite point guard I played with on NCAA March Madness 2009 on PS3, and he'll always be the guy who gave the Golden State Warriors nightmares for six games in the playoffs last year. He's already very good and capable of being better than this. I'm looking forward to seeing the greatness emerge.
Happy Hour drink recommendation: Rob Roy. An underrated drink for an underrated player, as this is a Manhattan with Scotch instead of rye. When you order this in front of your friends, someone will invariably ask: "What is that?" Just tell them: "You're too simple to understand the greatness of this drink, you peasant." Then you walk away, like the basketball and cocktail boss that you are.