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AJ Lawson Deepdive

Underrated 3nD prospect and maybe the “next Terance Mann”

AJ Lawson  is a Canadian born swingman who played for the South Carolina university for three years. He had a great showing at the G-League combine, and was invited to the main NBA combine. A lot of teams are intrigued by his athleticism, potential to shoot and handle at the next level. In his junior year at South Carolina he posted a OBMP of 4.7 and a DBPM of 0.8. Here is a list of drafted juniors who posted similar numbers:

He doesn’t really stand out in a positive light. Except for Jabari Bird, every other of these prospects returned to college for their senior year. Lawson does separate himself in a good way by his impressive 8% turnover rate. On the negative side, he is by far the worst shot blocker of the bunch, while his assist percentage lacks, that is due to his role this year. In previous years, his assist percentage was a lot closer to the top of these prospects. Jabari Bird, the only junior out of this group who stayed in the draft was picked 56th and only played one year in the league. Elijah Huges was picked 39th last year, Terance Mann was the 48th pick two years ago, and we all know how his career has been progressing. McRae was the 58th pick, spent four years in the league, totaling 129 games. Brooks spent 5 years in the league, had an impressive rookie season, where he averaged 12 points per game, but tailed off after that.

Defensive Metrics

AJ Lawson posted a DBPM of 0.7, DReb rate of 11.9, a very good steal rate of 2.6 and block rate of 0.5. Here are drafted wings of the past who posted similar numbers at his age:

Very encouraging list. Both Mann and Johnson are good enough defensively to play in the playoffs. Jackson is ok and Brown only played in the league for 3 years. But Lawson will probably have more success than most of them defending on the perimeter. His steal rate is a proof of that, and he is especially deadly in passing lanes. While he isn’t the rebounder of Mann,(especially on the offensive end) or shooter like Johnson, he could very well turn out a player with a similar 3nD role, bothering guard initiators, cutting and hitting open 3s.

Will the he be able to space the floor?

AJ Lawson posted some encouraging numbers, even if the 3pt percentage is far from stellar. He was 70% at the free throw line, with a ok 27 FTR, he was 35% from 3, but he also took an enormous volume of 13.5  3 point attempts per 100 possessions. Drafted junior wings with similar numbers:

Dillon Brooks is a career 35%, Glen Rice Jr, lasted only 2 seasons and shot 25% from three, but he was also the worse free throw shooter of the bunch. Hardway is the best shooter of the bunch, with a career 36% and around over 39% his last two seasons in the NBA. Justin Jackson is a career 32% so far, but his free throws have been on the rise, over 80%, so we might see increase in that department as well. Lawson isn’t far behind these guys in terms of production, but he already has shot more 3s than them.  Tim Hardway jr is his statistical twin, and while I’m doubtful that AJ can go over 39%, he projects as a 36% or more 3pt shooter in the NBA on good volume and range.

Creation for Others

Lawson posted an assist to turnover rate of 1, I have taken his career assist percentage of 13 since I think it’s more representative of his creation ability, and his usage was 25. Drafted junior wings with similar numbers:

Marshon Brooks and James Anderson were a 3 assists per 36 player during his stint in the NBA, and Joe Harris is posting similar numbers so far in his career as is Tim Hardaway Jr. Crabbe is the worst of the bunch with around 2 per 36 during his NBA career. Since there isn’t much separation between Lawson and the rest of them, I think he should also end up being a between 2 and 3 assists per 36 minutes type of player.

Self Creation

Lawson posted a pedestrian FTR of 27, two point percentage of 44, a very poor offensive rebound rate of 3 , and usage of 25. Junior Wing prospects with similar numbers:

Another really encouraging list of prospects. Valentine didn’t have the NBA career that many suspected he would but he did peak with 10 points per game in the NBA. LeVert is a 20 PPG scorer in the NBA, who is a lot more athletic, and had a tighter handle than Lawson at the same age. CJ Wilcox didn’t get many opportunities to play in the NBA, but his per 36 ppg were around 15. This gives me hope that with enough realistic improvement and adjustment AJ Lawson could become a player can get his own bucket. How much is hard to tell, but I’m thinking at the 12-15 range.

Summary

I was really positively surprised by Lawson. He is putting up all these good indicators, indicators that former first round players did as well. While he is a fringe second rounder on most mock drafts, I would certainly take him in the second round, maybe even around the 40th pick. You can never have enough athletic wings who can shoot, and Lawson projects as such a player. He should be able to hang with thinner wings and smaller guards, get steals in passing lanes, cut, make the extra pass and hit the 3 at an average or better rate.

So best case scenario he’s a thinner Tim Hardaway jr. But his floor should be a rotational wing on a good team, who gets you 15,20 minutes of quality defense and floor spacing.

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