Inside the numbers : Diagnosing Ty Lawson's early season woes

Lawson has had his downs - maybe he's back on an upswing. - Doug Pensinger

Ty Lawson has come under much scrutiny this season. He signed a big contract extension in the off-season and people were expecting a jump in his play. Is it happening? Let's examine what is going on with Lawson thus far.

Season G MP PER TS% eFG% ORB% DRB% TRB% AST% STL% BLK% TOV% USG% OWS DWS WS WS/48
2009-10 65 1318 16.4 0.6 0.559 3.7 7.1 5.4 24.2 1.8 0.1 15.4 18 2.9 0.9 3.7 0.135
2010-11 80 2103 17.9 0.593 0.553 3.8 7.6 5.7 28.3 1.9 0.1 14.8 19.6 5.1 1.6 6.7 0.153
2011-12 61 2124 19.4 0.579 0.535 3.1 9.2 6.2 30.2 2 0.2 14.7 21.2 5.7 1.2 6.9 0.157
2012-13 40 1364 14.5 0.49 0.452 2 6.3 4.1 30.2 2.1 0.3 15.5 21.7 1.3 0.8 2.1 0.074
Career 246 6909 17.4 0.568 0.526 3.2 7.7 5.5 28.5 2 0.2 15 20.2 15.1 4.4 19.4 0.135

Let's just cut to the chase shall we? As most here at Denver Stiffs have noticed, Ty Lawson hasn't performed at the level that most expected after signing a 4 year, $48 million contract last October. His basketball-reference.com numbers above show that Ty is currently having his worst season since he entered the league, back in 2009.

So what is up with Lawson these days? Let's see if the numbers can tell us anything that we didn't already know.

Rebounding

His rebounding is down, but I'm not going to spend a lot of time on this because he's a point guard and rebounding out of that position is largely a function of team dynamics. I will say that Denver's +- percentages on the boards have not been affected by his dip in rebounding compared to last year. At this point I don't think there is any significance to his drop, so I won't discuss further.

Playmaking

If a point guard's primary responsibility is running an offense, and if Lawson has been playing "poorly", surely it will show up in his passing numbers right? Let's pull up some passing stats courtesy of hoopdata.com:

Year Tm Pos GP Min AST TOR TO A:T At Rim <10 Ft 10-15 Ft 16-23 Ft 2FG 3FG
2010 DEN PG 65 20.3 3.1 15.4 1.3 2.49 1.3 0.2 0.1 0.8 2.4 0.7
2011 DEN PG 80 26.3 4.7 14.8 1.7 2.75 2.1 0.2 0.1 0.6 3 1.7
2012 DEN PG 61 34.9 6.5 14.8 2.4 2.68 3.3 0.4 0.3 0.9 4.8 1.7
2013 DEN PG 37 34.4 6.8 11.2 2.7 2.55 3.4 0.4 0.2 0.7 4.8 2

There isn't much difference in his raw assist numbers, a slight increase in assists and turnovers, but nothing that really sticks out. How about the location of his assists? His at rim numbers are virtually identical, but there's a jump in three-point assists and a drop in dimes that lead to shots10-23 feet out. If we were to take anything from those numbers, it's that Ty's passing has improved this season. His assists are leading to better shots and he's making more of them, albeit with a few more mistakes.

Shooting

Now that we know he's appears to be an improved passer, let's can take a look at his shooting. Here is Ty's shot location chart courtesy of hoopdata.com:

At Rim 3-9 ft 10-15ft 16-23ft 3's
Yr Min M A FG% M A FG% M A FG% M A FG% M A eFG%
2010 20.3 1.6 2.7 60.5 0.2 0.6 41 0.2 0 52 0.5 1 48 0.5 1.3 61.5
2011 26.3 2.4 3.8 63.2 0.3 0.8 36.4 0.2 0 46.9 0.6 1 40 0.9 2.1 60.6
2012 34.9 2.9 4.6 62.8 0.7 1.4 48.9 0.4 1 48.1 0.9 2 38 1.2 3.3 55.1
2013 34.4 3.1 5 61.6 0.3 0.9 28.6 0.2 1 31 0.9 3 29 0.9 2.7 47.6

I see some good amongst the bad. Most notably, Lawson is taking more attempts at the rim, and making them at a similar rate. Ty has been ridiculed by many for his loss of aggression, however his at rim attempts show that he's taking approximately 10% more shots within three-feet. If he's losing aggression, it sure isn't affecting his ability to the basket and convert.

Unfortunately his numbers away from the rim are ALL down, and there lies the main culprit of Ty's struggles--he just hasn't been shooting the jumper well. Lawson has been pretty consistent his whole career from everywhere on the court, but for some reason he's had problems this year.

So, is this a harbinger of future struggles, or just a blip in an otherwise impressive shooting career? Part of the reason I wanted to show all four years is to illustrate just how consistent he's been since he entered the league, and to hypothesize that a player just doesn't lose his shot and never get it back. We've seen signs of him coming out of his slump recently, and the numbers are encouraging:

At Rim 3-9ft 10-15ft 16-23ft 3's
Month Games MIN FGM-A eFG% FGM-A eFG% FGM-A eFG% FGM-A eFG% FGM-A eFG%
October 1 37 4.0-9.0 44.4 0.0-0.0 0 0.0-0.0 0 2.0-6.0 33.3 1.0-2.0 75
November 16 36.5 3.3-5.3 61.9 0.3-1.1 29.4 0.2-0.8 23.1 0.8-2.6 31.7 0.6-2.7 34.9
December 15 33.5 2.5-3.9 65.5 0.3-1.0 33.3 0.1-0.7 20 1.0-3.5 28.3 1.1-3.1 55.4
January 7 31.6 4.1-7.0 59.2 0.0-0.6 0 0.7-1.1 62.5 0.6-2.3 25 1.1-2.9 60

It looks like Ty's shooting "slump" was closer to a month and not not whole season. Unfortunately it was BAD, so bad that it affected his free throws as well. The great news is that he's shooting nearly 40% from beyond the arc over the last 22 games on more attempts than his first 17 contests.

He's also been attacking the rim with the same frequency and the greater efficiency, particularly over the last month or so. His attempts at 16-23 feet are down and he's starting to hit from 10-15 feet. This is a shot I believe he can get whenever he wants, and should be a shot he takes in high leverage situations like crunch time. We've seen this more frequently as of late; and if Ty can keep up his confidence I don't think Denver will have the same issues with late game execution that plagued them earlier in the season.

Also of note is that his high turnover numbers, 3.4 per 36 minutes in November, have drastically reduced in December and January, down to 2.1 per 36 minutes. Those are better than his career marks.

So there's your answer to what is wrong with Lawson: He was in a shooting slump. One that only really lasted a month. It was BAD, but there are clear signs that his shooting woes are behind him. Even more encouraging is the fact that he's taking much better care of the ball, which could be attributed to better shooting and less forcing of the offense.

Ty Lawson is going to be just fine.

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