by Tyler Richardson / @Ty_richardson

The surprising overhaul within Denver’s organization following a 50-plus win season and top-three finish in the Western Conference has cleared the way for Ty Lawson to be the leader of the new school Nuggets.

With Andre Iguodala, George Karl and GM Masai Ujiri no longer in the Mile High City, it’s Lawson who is poised to be the go-to guy for one of the League’s most entertaining teams. (Stop for a second and picture a backcourt of Lawson and Nate Robinson, paired with Danilo Gallinari, Kenneth Faried and JaVale McGee. What could go wrong?)

Along with playing the role of leading man in Denver this year, Lawson will also be out to show people he is worth the $10 million the Nuggets are set to pay him as part of his contract extension. Lawson has already proved he has the pedigree to lead a team. While others were busy comparing him to Raymond Felton at UNC, Lawson paved his own way and became the first point guard since the late 1970s to win ACC Player of the Year. He also managed to lead the Tar Heels to a National Title that year—he had 21 points in the title game against Michigan State—while putting up career highs in points, assists and steals.

Lawson came to a roster in Denver crowded with veterans and was still able to crack the rotation his rookie season. Once the Carmelo Anthony deal went down the following season, and Chauncey Billups moved on, Lawson saw an even bigger role while splitting time with Felton. He gave the Nuggets more than 26 minutes a game, averaging 11 per, while proving he was more than just a specialty scorer. Of course there was this as well. By the time the ’11-12 season rolled around, Lawson had firmly implanted himself as a starting caliber point guard and has refused to look back since. Lawson’s improved floor game and ability to put defenders on skates helped him creep into the Top 50 last year, where he came in at No. 41 after previously going unranked.

It’s no secret that the now 25-year-old is lightening-in-a-bottle and has the confidence to go at anyone in the League. People have seen him slice in the lane with surgeon-like efficiency and fly from one end of the court to the other for the last four seasons.

Lawson’s improved range—which was once considered a glaring weakness in his game—doesn’t even take his fans by surprise any more. What people are really waiting to see is if the Oak Hill Academy product can consistently play at the All-Star level he routinely flashes. Lawson has seen his numbers plateau since his breakout season of in ’11-12. The 16.7 ppg and 6.9 apg he put up last year are almost identical to the numbers he put up during his ’11-12 campaign.

Hoping to help push Lawson to that elite level is Nuggets first-time head coach Brian Shaw. Shaw, the former Lakers and Pacers assistant, comes to Denver with a reputation for developing young talent (see Andrew Bynum/Paul George/Lance Stephenson).

Though Shaw—who grew up playing in Oakland and won three rings as a player with the Lakers—is set on making the young Nuggets play defense, he also plans to keep some of the up-tempo offense fans in Denver have become accustomed to. That should bode well for his new protégé, who will have the players around him to run the break efficiently.

Here’s Lawson’s take on the affect Shaw could have on the team next season:

“We’re a young team eager to learn. He brings that pedigree from being under Phil Jackson to taking the Indiana Pacers to the Eastern Conference finals,” Lawson recently told the Denver Post. “We’re just ready to soak up all the knowledge that he’s going to give us and hopefully get us out of the first round. That’s our main goal right now.”

Last season’s first round exit at the hands of the similarly youthful and exciting Golden State Warriors was a tough pill for Lawson & Co. to swallow. The Nuggets were the hot pick to ride a wave of lights-out shooting to a deep playoff run. Instead, Lawson watched as Stephen Curry and the Warriors captivated the nation and played a hard-fought series against the eventual Western Conference champion San Antonio Spurs.

As he embarks on the most challenging season of his young career, Lawson will try and prove that he is ready to lead his supporting cast full of snipers and athletes over the playoff hump. The $8 million raise the Nuggets gave him is a sign that they trust their speedy point guard to take them there. Now, Ty Lawson must prove to world he is trustworthy.


Where should Ty Lawson rank in the SLAM Top 50?

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SLAMonline Top 50 Players 2013
RankPlayerTeamPositionPos. Rank
50Monta EllisMavsSG5
49Luol DengBullsSF10
48Ricky RubioTWolvesPG14
47Greg MonroePistonsPF12
46Kawhi LeonardSpursSF9
45Mike ConleyGrizzliesPG13
44Al JeffersonBobcatsC9
43David LeeWarriorsPF11
42Jrue HolidayPelicansPG12
41Anthony DavisPelicansPF10
40Joe JohnsonNetsSG4
39Serge IbakaThunderPF9
38Kevin GarnettNetsPF8
37Rudy GayRaptorsSF8
36Paul PierceNetsSF7
35Ty LawsonNuggetsPG11

Rankings are based on expected contribution in ’13-14—to players’ team, the League and the game.