On Friday, Ty Lawson banked in a layup eight minutes into the first quarter against the Philadelphia 76ers. There was nothing extraordinary about the basket, except the fact that it was Lawson's first score in three games.
With a 7.46 PER, Ty Lawson is statistically the fourth worst point guard in the NBA*, prompting J.B. Bickerstaff to reduce his minutes to next to none. In the past four games, Lawson has played a total of 36 minutes, including a three-minuteperformance versus the Memphis Grizzlies and a DNP against the Knicks.
*Rockets point guard Patrick Beverley looks up at Lawson's name in the PER leaderboard as Bev sits in dead last among PGs with a 6.15 efficiency rating.
Lawson is posting career lows in minutes, assists, rebounds, and points per game. He does not just stink statistically, however, he is just playing flat-out horribly. The crazy part is that two years ago, Lawson was arguably a top five point guard in the league.
What's the Problem?
Two factors contributing to Lawson's nightmare of a season include being out of shape and his evanescent outside shot.
According to NBA.com's Player Tracking, Lawson has attempted just 19 driving layups (he's made 14), which amounts to just over one layup attempt per game. Part of the lack of shot attempts at the hoop is because he has the ball in his hands less, but it is also because Lawson is hopelessly out of shape. He has lost much of his quickness, which is a huge part of his game. When Lawson is off the floor, the Rockets' offensive rating and PACE improves.
Plus, Lawson's jump shot has clanked off the rim at an egregious rate. Lawson is shooting an abysmal 25 percent from three and 32 percent from the field. He is a complete offensive liability when you also consider his career-high turnover percentage and career-low assist percentage.
But no factor is greater than his inability to mesh with his teammates on the court. He simply has not adapted to playing with James Harden. Along with having negative win shares, he has a -6.6 Box Plus Minus, which approximates Lawson's plus/minus per 100 possessions.
All those fancy numbers simply indicate one thing: Lawson has been a historically bad basketball player this year and the Rockets are simply better when he does not play.
Is it Salvageable?
There is no true precedent for a player of Lawson's caliber to fall off the map so dramatically. A similar situation could be when Kevin Love joined the Cleveland Cavaliers and saw his numbers drop. But even as Love's role changed and he became a less efficient scorer and rebounder, he was still effective.
Lawson's change of scenery from Denver to Houston has presented several challenges. His role has changed substantially because Harden is also a ball-dominant guard. As a two-man combination, Harden and Lawson have played 344 minutes together and the Rockets have a -9.2 point differential with a Harden/Lawson backcourt.
The blame is not only on Lawson. James Harden also has to assume some responsibility for holding on to the ball too long. Harden is definitely more capable than Lawson at playing off the ball, but he has yet to cede any ball handling duties to Lawson.
Ty Lawson definitely has talent, so there is hope he can turn it around. But he can only do so if he gets in shape and is given the opportunity to succeed, possibly as the leader of the second unit.
The Financial Side of Ty Lawson
Daryl Morey made Lawson waive the guarantee on the final year of his contract this summer, which allows the Rockets to back out of the deal at the end of the season.
They can waive him without penalty for the 2016-17 season or pay him over $13 million. If his play continues, it seems like a no-brainer to release him after this year. Or, since the contract is so flexible, the Rockets can try to trade him, despite his trade value being at an all-time low (and considering the paltry haul the Rockets gave up for him, that's saying something).
At this point, the Rockets would be lucky to get back Isaiah Canaan from the 76ers in return for Lawson, but even that is a stretch. Would the Clippers even give the Rockets Pablo Prigioni back for Lawson?
No NBA team will look at the current state of the Rockets and say, "Hey! Let's help out our friend Dork Elvis and trade for Tywon Ronell Freaking Lawson!"
So Ty, you have hit rock bottom. You can only improve from here. But if you continue this truly disgusting play, you'll be ball-hogging next to Stephon Marbury in China before you know it.