The Ty Lawson Effect


On March 7, the Indiana Pacers announced they had signed recently released Rockets point guard Ty Lawson to a one-year deal with the hopes that he would bolster the ball handling and scoring of the Pacers' second unit backcourt. Lawson made his Indiana debut that same evening against the San Antonio Spurs, and, although it was short-lived due to an ankle injury, his presence and potential on the team were instantly felt. In just five minutes of gameplay, Lawson displayed the exact speed and penetrating skill for which the Pacers have been searching the last several seasons:

The fantastic dribble drive forces the Spurs defense to collapse, resulting in four San Antonio players clogging the paint. The spacing leaves Rodney Stuckey wide open on the right wing for an uncontested three. 

The Pacers have been able to set up trailing threes in transition this season, but what Lawson does in this halfcourt set has been completely foreign to Indiana for quite some time. Before signing Lawson, Indiana's assist percentage was a paltry 53.8%, the fifth worst mark in the league.1, 2 Since the acquisition, the rate has ballooned to 62%, which, over the course of a full season, would be the third best rate in the league.Lawson would miss the next five games following his injury against San Antonio, but the team was still able to move the ball effectively, accumulating an even greater assist percentage of 62.2%. 

 Lawson's value is truly understood when evaluating the team's numbers when he is on vs. off the court. Even with limited playing time, Lawson has significantly impacted the Pacers in several key areas. In terms of assist percentage, Lawson simply being on the court raises the team's rate from 54.7% to 63.8% and also increases their effective field goal percentage from .493 to .503. There are also some areas in which Lawson is a net negative offensively, as having him on the court causes a slight uptick in Indiana's turnover percentage (15.1% off vs. 17.4% on), and a significant drop in offensive rating (104.4 off vs. 96.2 on).

Defensively, although Lawson is not known as a terrific defender (his total defensive rating this entire season is 113), he is a net positive for the Pacers in several categories. When he is on the court, Pacers opponents' assist percentage drops from 55.4% to 40.8%, and their offensive rating drops from 96.2 to 93.0. Granted, individual defensive statistics are still tough to quantify, but they can at least provide a frame of reference for Lawson's impact. Watching him play, it's easy to see that Lawson has already bought in to Indiana's defensive approach. Here we see Lawson gamble on a steal at first; then a quick recovery allows him to poke the ball free from Tim Frazier, allowing a quick outlet pass and easy transition bucket:

So is the Pacers' increase in passing activity a direct result of Lawson just being on the team? It's hard to deny from the eye test (see above Streamables), but the raw numbers might suggest otherwise. Looking at the Pacers' performance since the All-Star Break, their assist percentage has been a respectable 59.4%. However, that rate from the All-Star Break to right before the Lawson signing was 57.0%; still better than the 53.8% it was originally, but just middle-of-the-road as opposed to what the rate has been since Lawson arrived. One possible explanation is that the league's break provided much-needed rest for a team that had simply run out of gas. The numbers from the All-Star Break to March 7 are strikingly similar to those of the Pacers' 12-2 spurt in November, when it seemed they had transitioned to an up-tempo offense for good.

It's likely some combination of Lawson's signing and the Pacers simply playing crisper basketball, and the small sample size at our disposal for Lawson's time on the Pacers might not give an accurate picture of what his impact would be throughout a full 82 games. Nonetheless, Pacers fans should be rightfully excited about what Lawson has brought to the table thus far. If Lawson's performances holds steady and he is given extended bench minutes in the postseason, there is plenty of reason to believe team president Larry Bird will look to re-sign him. 

 

1. All stats courtesy of stats.NBA.com

2. Small sample sizes to follow

3. All percentages used to rank the Pacers should be taken in the context of "over a full season."

Like what you've read? Share it with your friends on      or