USA Basketball tends to affirm players’ excellence, rather than establish it, but in 2012 combo forward Dedric Lawson enhanced his reputation at a USAB winter workout. Already considered a national caliber prospect, that event generated even greater momentum for Lawson as he competed as a freshman (at the time) and entered the 2013 travel season.
Despite still being considered a 2016 prospect at that point, Lawson toured the EYBL circuit with Team Penny. He put his precociousness on display at the first live event of the year, knocking down jump shots and scoring from multiple levels at the EYBL Anaheim location. He proceeded from there to average 13 points per game in 24 games during the next four months, placing him among the country’s most productive rising sophomores.
His family situation adds intrigue to the plot. Older brother K.J. Lawson also carries high-major accolades and committed to Memphis that October. Most everyone anticipated that Dedric ultimately would follow suit, and clearly most college coaches opted not to invest resources that they perceived to be a waste of time.
Dedric advanced through his sophomore season and hit the 2014 travel circuit once again with Team Penny. Lawson increased nearly all of his critical averages and carried top-10 status into July, at which point he announced publicly for Memphis.
Not long thereafter, this past September, he announced that he was moving ahead one class and would therefore graduate with his brother and enroll with the Tigers simultaneously in 2015-16. The two brothers also left Memphis and are playing their senior year at Jacksonville (Fla.) Arlington Country Day.
Before delving too deeply into Lawson’s skills and style, the most important feature to point out is that he’s very productive. However someone may dissect his game, positively or with less enthusiasm, the bottom line is that he has proved himself — repeatedly — versus elite competition.
Beginning at a young age and extending through this past summer, Lawson delivered for Team Penny. He stepped up his scoring average this year to 16 points per game, and he raised his rebounding average from seven to 11 per outing.
|Lawson always has been comfortable with the ball in his hands|
Additional strength has helped. Though still thin, Lawson has filled out naturally and checks in at 6-8, 200 pounds, and his frame will make muscling up very easy for him.
Those are the raw numbers. And while “he has a nose for scoring” sounds like a generic descriptor, and it is, his track record for production can support its own weight.
His comfort level lies in facing the basket. He’s a fine jump shooter with a smooth release that’s accurate from the middle areas and capable from the three-point stripe as well. He was a career 34 percent three shooter for Team Penny, spread out over the course of 48 games. That’s hardly the mark of a sharpshooter, but opponents certainly must take him seriously in space.
Lawson actually hunted his threeball more aggressively and slightly more effectively in 2013 than in 2014, but he remains a threat from distance and that talent should continue to serve him well at Memphis.
Though not tremendously explosive, Lawson is a long 6-8 and runs the floor with easy, loping strides. He’s more of a coordination and control athlete, as opposed to a highly explosive one, but he’s certainly quick enough to punish defenders if they crowd him outside. His dribbling is outstanding for someone standing 6-8, and he can drive in either direction.
His ballhandling is strong for 6-8, as is his passing. He also utilized his length to swat two shots per game this year as well as rip away just under two steals per night.
Moreover, Team Penny advanced to the Peach Jam both in 2013 and 2014, and in fact they nearly won the event this year. Lawson had help from his brother and Florida-bound guard Keyvaughn Allen, mind you, but he also performed impressively that week.
Quite naturally, I’d love for Lawson to be more explosive. He lacks “pop” athletically, a limitation that’s likely to become more of an issue for the professional ranks than college. He also doesn’t take advantage of his size in the post frequently enough.
Part of the question will be whom he defends. Lawson possesses the size and length to college power forwards, but what about the NBA? He can struggle at times moving his feet laterally on the perimeter, yet his offensive game clearly makes him more of a wing than a big man.
Also, as productive as he was for Team Penny, Lawson didn’t score efficiently. He shot just 45 percent from the floor this year, down from 49 percent in 2013. He also could become more physical on drives and around the basket, because he doesn’t shoot as many free throws as he might. And given that he pulled up his foul shooting this year to 76 percent, he should spend as much time there as possible.
Lawson is a polished player, far more than the overwhelming bulk of his 2015 peers. For that reason he should be able to make an impact for the Tigers from day one, especially given that Memphis’ offense has sputtered out of the gate this season and needs scoring.
He’s not only talented, he’s confident. Lawson doesn’t project to be the kind of player who defers to teammates due to some unwarranted reverence. He’ll likely step into the lineup and look to create action, exactly what his coaches will ask him to do.
Long-term, NBA scouts likely will wonder whether he can create his own shot effectively versus top athletes. The fact that he possesses range might provide a glimpse of his eventual role knocking down threes, even if he doesn’t become a top-shelf slasher in college and beyond.
In the meantime, he’ll advance to Memphis and give the Tigers a freshman who’s ready to compete and help guide the team to victories as early as next season.