Coach Dave Joerger termed the Kings’ 15 turnovers “deadly” in a loss to the San Antonio Spurs on Thursday night, but perhaps the one silver lining was the number in the box score next to the name of point guard Ty Lawson.
Lawson committed just one turnover and dished out nine assists in the Kings’ 102-94 loss in their home opener. Joerger cited two reasons he said made that ratio more impressive. For one, Lawson played 35 minutes on the second night of a back-to-back after going 36 minutes Wednesday in Phoenix.
Second, Joerger acknowledged the Kings’ offense is “not a perfect system” for Lawson, who during his career has thrived in the open court and creating plays in space.
The Kings’ half-court offense often has big men DeMarcus Cousins and Kosta Koufos positioned farther away from the basket, at the elbows. Lawson, a seventh-year veteran, said this has required an adjustment because he has less room to maneuver around his defender and drive into the paint to create offense.
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“I know I can get by my person,” Lawson said. “(But) it’s them two right there, so I can’t really get into the paint and dish as much as I would like. So I’m just trying to figure out how I can pick and choose my points on the offensive end, where I can get people open or get into the paint.”
Lawson said he ran a similar offense in Denver under coach Brian Shaw, but the Nuggets usually only had one post player in a higher position, not two. Lawson said he has watched film of Mike Conley, who ran this offense under Joerger in Memphis, to see how Conley managed to create penetration.
“His is mostly off of handoffs or pick-and-rolls, him and (center) Marc Gasol,” Lawson said. “He wouldn’t get in the paint much in the first four, five seconds of the shot clock.”
Lawson, who has averaged 13.1 points a game in his career, scored nine in Wednesday’s opener and seven against the Spurs despite his extended minutes, and Joerger credited him with making the effort to adapt to a different role.
“I think he’s fighting,” Joerger said. “This is not a perfect system we’re learning for him to play open-court and get up and down the floor. So we’ve got to find those spots where we can get him in transition offensively to help spring him a little bit more. But he’s absolutely trying to do the right thing.”
That, Joerger said, extends to the defensive end as well. Lawson has drawn two difficult matchups in the first two games, with speedy Suns guard Eric Bledsoe and Spurs veteran Tony Parker. Thursday night, though, Lawson helped limit the crafty Parker to just four points on 0-for-6 shooting from the field.
Lawson said that when he first broke into the league, he emulated parts of Parker’s game, as another shorter guard. That, and six years now of playing against Parker, likely helped Thursday night.
“I know he wants to get in the paint, he’s not really trying to shoot threes,” Lawson said. “So off the pick-and-roll I just went under, rather than to the side, trying to make sure he couldn’t get all the way to the basket, and force him to shoot the midrange shot.”
Joerger said he sees Lawson “really trying defensively.” Lawson said Joerger “has a way to motivate you to be a better defensive player.”
Lawson’s heavy playing time so far is due in part to Darren Collison being suspended for the first eight games of the season. But the 28-year-old said Thursday night he was feeling no ill effects of the early workload.
“I feel I’ve got my young legs back,” Lawson said.