After averaging career-lows in points (5.8), assists (3.4), and field-goal percentage (38.7%) over the first half of the season with the Houston Rockets, Ty Lawson should have been considered as an insurance policy when he arrived in Indiana. Prior to the 28-year-old's addition, Rodney Stuckey had missed 24 games and rookie guard Joe Young appeared too green for the playoffs. If Stuckey had continued to be limited by his foot injury, the Pacers would have needed an experienced playmaker for the stretch-run of the season.
Instead, head coach Frank Vogel made him a focal point, tailoring the team's entire playing rotation around his skill set. Granted, Lavoy Allen and Jordan Hill proved incapable of keeping pace with Lawson's speed, but demoting Myles Turner from the starting lineup to increase the pace of the bench only ended up doing a disservice to both units. Especially when considering that the Pacers had earned impressive wins over the San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder, and Atlanta Hawks with Turner as a starter.
With Lawson at the helm, the all-bench unit experienced short-term success against mostly sub-.500 opponents to close the season but later proved to be fool's gold against Toronto's East-leading reserve lineup in the first round of the playoffs, getting outscored by 10.6 points per 100 possessions.
How did Ty Lawson impress:
If the Pacers wanted to reduce Monta Ellis and George Hill's work load ahead of the post-season, Lawson's court vision was reason enough for him to crack the rotation. Before he joined the Pacers in early March, Lawson had created 435 points off assists in 53 games played. Compare that to Young, who had created 106 points off assists in 33 games played.
In his first game with the Blue & Gold, the fast-paced guard showed a flair for completing passes with a high degree of difficulty. The angle on this pass, in which Lawson inverts the floor by driving to the basket and then whipping the ball back to Rodney Stuckey for three, is a prime example of the 28-year-old's ability to see the entire court.
How did Ty Lawson disappoint:
Perhaps more troublesome than Lawson's leaky defense against Cory Joseph in the first round of the playoffs was his reluctance to score the basketball.
For example, take this play from the fourth-quarter of Game 5. By shaking free from DeMar DeRozan, Lawson creates a clear path to the basket, but when he gets to the rim he inexplicably passes up the wide open layup to set up Rodney Stuckey from behind the arc. The difference between this play and the above mentioned assist against the San Antonio Spurs is that none of Toronto's help defenders converged on the speedy guard. Lawson should have taken the shot.
Whether his hesitancy was the product of him towing the line ahead of free agency, being too focused on setting the table for others, or simple lack of confidence can be left up to debate, but turning himself into a non-threat on offense only served to make an already struggling bench unit more stagnant.
The Pacers were 39.3 points per 100 possessions worse with Ty Lawson on the floor compared to when he was on the bench during the playoffs, per NBA.com.
What's next for Ty Lawson?
Based on these splits alone, moving on from Lawson this summer seems likely. But with only a handful of unrestricted free agent point guards available on the market, the 28-year-old may still be the best available option, barring significant off-season development from Joe Young. Still, it would behoove the Pacers to thoroughly consider all of their options as well as his fit within the style of the new coach's presumably offense-oriented system before recommitting themselves to his speed alone.
"It's lost right now," Lawson told the Indy Star's Candace Buckner when asked about his thoughts following the season. "I don't know. I haven't really sat down and thought about it. My agent talked to me a little bit about it a couple days ago. I was just focusing on the playoffs so I wasn't really listening to him. We'll just see where things lead this summer."
Overall, SB Nation's Tom Ziller ranks him at No. 99 on his top 100 free agents of 2016 list. Acquiring Lawson as a backup plan was a necessary gamble, tailoring the playing rotation around someone who was waived by his former team and had only arrived in March was setting the bar too high.