by Peter Walsh / @goinginsquad

Ty Lawson isn’t short on confidence heading into the ‘12-13 season, having already claimed that the Nuggets are the team to beat out West.

With his statement, the lightning quick point guard has put a huge bullseye on both his and his teammate’s backs and will have to perform at a high level if he is to back up his pre-season claim.

Is Lawson up to the challenge?

The last time we saw the Nuggets on the court was during last season’s Playoffs when the point guard lead Denver in a seven-game slugfest against the Lakers. The Nuggets went onto lose the series, but it was no fault of Lawson’s as he put together impressive outings—25 points and 7 assists; 25 and 7; 36 and 6; and 24 and 6—in four of the seven games.

Think about that for a second: Ty Lawson, a sub-6-foot player balling in a League dominated by giants, was torching an L.A. team that featured two 7-footers, Ron Artest (sorry, I refuse to call him Metta World Peace) and Kobe Bryant. Using his blinding speed, the Carolina alum was able to knife through a crowded paint and rain threes over the overmatched combo of Ramon Sessions and Steve Blake.

The Nuggets’, and Lawson’s performance in particular, left many basketball fans and analysts impressed, setting the stage for this season’s elevated expectations.

The ‘12-13 season has the potential to be special for the Nugs. With the addition of Andre Iguodala plus scorers like Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler, Lawson will have a lot of mouths to feed, and faces the challenging task of keeping all of his teammates happy while still getting his.

Though this Nuggets team has proven to be unselfish, this is the NBA where every player is a bad stretch away from letting his ego get in the way of a team’s success. Lawson will be counted on to put everyone in the position to get their touches.

Luckily for Lawson, he has plenty of experience in running the show when surrounded by talent. Growing up in the DMV area, a high school-aged Lawson played on the same AAU team as Kevin Durant. From there, Lawson attended UNC, teaming with the likes of Wayne Ellington, Ed Davis and Tyler Hansbrough, where they ultimately won a National Championship. With that kind of experience, Lawson knows what it takes to make a team click and help maximize its performance.

While he should see a rise in both his point and assist totals (last year he averaged 16.4 and 6.6 per—eerily identical numbers to his final year at Carolina), the point guard’s biggest impact won’t show up in the stat sheet.

Lawson’s biggest contribution on the court this season will be more mental than anything else—entering his fourth year, he will have to prove that he is ready to become the leader of team for years to come.

Outside of Iguodala, who hasn’t played a single game for the organization, the Nuggets lack a seasoned veteran who has an influence both on the court and in the locker room. Lawson will be George Karl’s eyes and ears on the hardwood and it will be up to him to take control of the team and assume the leadership role that is currently vacant.

At 25 and entering a contract season—though there’s a chance that he will sign an extension before the season starts—Lawson will be the most important (not best, important) player on a Nuggets team that is building what could be a force in the Western Conference.

Denver’s intelligent front office will determine whether Lawson is the team’s long-term solution at the point, a decision that will come down to not only his production and numbers but also his grip on the team and his leadership capabilities.

Coach Karl has been hounding his point guard all offseason about stepping up and being the voice of the team and it is now show and prove time for the young man.

Fortunately for Lawson, Karl has put him in a perfect position to succeed with a gameplan that caters to his strengths.

Denver’s uptempo system allows the point guard to get out in transition and find his surrounding cast of young, athletic players for easy scoring opportunities. When the game is on the line, Karl is comfortable with the ball in Lawson’s hands, and the point guard is never one to shy away from the big moment, possessing the rare clutchfactor gene that big-time players are seemingly born with.

Lawson’s pre-season proclamation will certainly be scoffed at, but beneath the surface, it could be seen as an attempt to control the reins of this young Nuggets team. Lawson will be held accountable from here on out, but if he backs up his claim and produces, there’s no doubt that his teammates will instill their trust and count on him to help the team win games.

Lawson made a strong impression on the SLAMonline staff, making his Top 50 debut at No. 41, ahead of other point guards Brandon Jennings and Steph Curry and All-Star Al Horford. Lawson’s ranking is indicative of SLAMonline’s belief that he is ready to take the next step in his career and become a vital piece of Denver’s future.

In an era where the depth and talent at point guard has never been matched, he has a chance to work his way into the top tier of guards with his play this upcoming season.

The table is set for him to enter the conversation as an All-Star caliber floor general.

Now it’s on him to deliver.


Where should Ty Lawson rank in the SLAMonline Top 50?

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SLAMonline Top 50 Players 2012
RankPlayerTeamPositionPos. Rank
50Greg MonroePistonsC8
49Tyreke EvansKingsPG14
48Brandon JenningsBucksPG13
47Stephen CurryWarriorsPG12
46Ricky RubioTWolvesPG11
45Al JeffersonJazzPF14
44Anthony DavisHornetsPF13
43Serge IbakaThunderPF12
42Al HorfordHawksC7
41Ty LawsonNuggetsPG10

Notes
• Rankings are based solely on projected ’12-13 performance.
• Contributors to this list include: Jake Appleman, Maurice Bobb, Rodger Bohn, Brendan Bowers, Franklyn Calle, David Cassilo, Bryan Crawford, Adam Figman, Eldon Khorshidi, Eddie Maisonet III, Ryne Nelson, Ben Osborne, Allen Powell II, Sam Rubenstein, Jonathan Santiago, Abe Schwadron, Leo Sepkowitz, Dave Spahn, Ben Taylor, Tzvi Twersky, Peter Walsh, Tracy Weissenberg, Yaron Weitzman, DeMarco Williams and Dave Zirin.
• Want more of the SLAMonline Top 50? Check out the archive.