The Best Tar Heel in the NBA: Ty Lawson


Oct 29, 2014; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Nuggets guard Ty Lawson (3) brings the ball up the court against Detroit Pistons guard D.J. Augustin (14) during the first half at Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

Throughout the history of the NBA, many North Carolina Tar Heels have been drafted to lead franchises to new heights (see “Michael J. Jordan“), or simply offer depth to already talented teams (see “Daniel R. Green“).

In today’s NBA there are a handful of former North Carolina Tar Heels that have a significant impact on their respective teams. John Henson provides length and depth for the Milwaukee Bucks, Harrison Barnes adds athleticism and explosiveness to the bench of the Golden State Warriors, and Vince Carter is still putting up points and providing veteran leadership for the Memphis Grizzlies. However, none of these players impact a game like point guard, Ty Lawson, has done for the Denver Nuggets since being drafted in 2009.

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Ty Lawson was picked 18th overall in the first round of the 2009 NBA draft by the Minnesota Timberwolves, and was then traded to the Denver Nuggets. Since making his way to the NBA, Lawson, a former ACC Player of the Year and national champion, has excelled in his latest leadership role in Denver. The majority of all scoring plays for the Nuggets run through Lawson’s hands, who holds averages of 14.1 points and 6.0 assists per game in his five years of NBA experience. However, while Lawson has not always been the best UNC alumni during his time in the league, (Vince Carter has arguably held that title for much of Lawson’s early career) he has been given more opportunities to prove himself, and gain NBA ability as a regular starter for much of his career.

Ty Lawson and teammate Wayne Ellington have announced they will leave UNC after their junior seasons and enter the NBA draft.

Photo by Streeter Lecka- Getty Images.

Since his NBA rookie season, Ty Lawson has only improved every aspect of his game. While his field goal percentage may have gone down a few points since his first two years in the NBA, he has taken up the role on the Nuggets of shooting much more often. Because the offense runs primarily through Lawson, he has to take more shots if the Nuggets want any chance of winning games. Taking about 13 shots per game from the floor, Lawson turns about 43 percent of them into points. If he took any less shots, it would not be enough, and if he took any more shots, he runs the risk of taking his teammates out of the game.

However, it is the act of keeping his teammates involved where Lawson has improved immensely during his time as a pro. He has gone from averaging 3.1 assists per game his rookie season to averaging 8.4 assists last season. Distributing the ball as well as Lawson does now, while still scoring between 12 and 20 points per game of his own every night, the Nuggets have managed to stay competitive in a loaded Western Conference for every one of Lawson’s NBA seasons, last year being his first without a postseason appearance.

While the Nuggets as a team do have some holes to fill when it comes to putting together a true championship contender, they would not have seen the decent successes they have seen over the last five seasons without the development of Ty Lawson. When the Nuggets finally manage to reel in a higher quality supporting cast around Lawson and talented forward, Kenneth Faried (or who they may decide to replace Faried with), we may begin to see more of what the league’s best Tar Heel can do surrounded by talent good enough to make it out of the first round of the playoffs.