In terms of his NBA potential the knock on Dedric Lawson always has centered around his athletic abilities and whether his relative lag in that area would keep him from competing at basketball’s highest level.
And while those concerns may still exist for some, at least a couple of analysts think Lawson’s basketball skills and acumen should help him get drafted and make an NBA roster.
ESPN’s Jay Bilas, who has Lawson ranked 44th on his list of best available prospects in the 60-pick draft, described the all-Big 12 forward from Kansas as “really interesting” during televised coverage of the NBA Draft Combine.
“He doesn’t fit like the athletic profile you would want for an NBA player — he’s not a freak athlete. But he knows how to play. And he puts up numbers,” Bilas said. “I have to think he can find a place in the NBA just by knowing how to play.”
In his one season at KU, Lawson averaged 19.4 points and 10.3 rebounds a game, leading the Big 12 in both categories. He shot 49% from the field as a redshirt junior with the Jayhawks, connecting on 39.3% of his 3-pointers and also averaged 1.7 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.1 blocks over the course of 36 games.
At the combine, though, Lawson’s athletic measurables highlighted the worries of his critics. In various speed and agility drills Lawson posted the lowest maximum vertical leap (26 inches) among the 58 prospects who went through them. He also finished in the bottom three in standing vertical leap (23.5 inches), three-quarter court sprint (3.6 seconds) and shuttle run (3.54 seconds). Lawson fared mildly better in the lane agility drill, where his time of 11.8 seconds was the ninth-worst time.
Lawson could be seen going through the shuttle drill during ESPN’s live coverage, prompting Bilas to further assess some of Lawson’s weaknesses.
“His athleticism, his foot speed, his explosiveness, that’s going to be, honestly, a negative for him,” Bilas said. “The fact that he knows how to play, he’s a great passer, he’s incredibly productive, he’s mature, those are the real positives. I think he’ll play in the NBA. But it’s a league of athleticism, too. Athleticism, you don’t want to be seduced by it, but you can’t dismiss it, either. That’s the only thing holding him back, is his level of athleticism.”
NBA scouts, coaches and executives got to watch Lawson play actual basketball in person, too, at the combine. On the first day of scrimmages Lawson scored 6 points on 2-for-8 shooting with both of his field goals coming from 3-point range, where he was 2-for-4. He grabbed 8 rebounds and came away with a pair of blocks and an assist, too, in 19 minutes.
The following day Lawson put up 10 points on 4-for-8 shooting and again went 2-for-4 on 3-pointers. Lawson added 5 rebounds, 1 assist and 1 block in 21 minutes.
Bilas said Lawson is a “great passer and he rebounds at a really high rate, and that translates really well to the next level.”
ESPN NBA Draft analyst Mike Schmitz agreed that Lawson has a “great feel” for the game.
“He can score on the block. I think becoming a consistent shooter from the perimeter is going to be big for him,” Schmitz said, “just because he’s not a guy who’s going to step out and guard in space. But I absolutely think he’s going to be on a roster and has a chance to potentially be productive down the line.”
Projected as a second-round pick in June, Lawson will turn 22 in October. Schmitz pointed out that not every successful NBA player is an elite athlete. Citing Denver all-star Nikola Jokic, Schmitz said if a player has feel and skill and shooting ability it can offset shortcomings, and that bodes well for someone such as Lawson.
“I think he needs to continue to improve his body, just because the margin for error athletically for him is just so thin. I think he’s a fringe guy,” Schmitz said. “But whether or not he’s an impact player in the NBA, I think we’re still finding out.”
Kansas point guard Devon Dotson proved to look the most athletic among the three Jayhawks at the combine during speed and agility drills.
Out of all the prospects who opted to take part in those workouts, Dotson posted the second-fastest shuttle run, finishing in 2.8 seconds. Only Jordan Bone, a point guard from Tennessee, was faster at 2.78.
Dotson had the fifth-fastest time in the three-quarter court sprint (3.14 seconds) and ranked ninth in lane agility (10.63 seconds). His maximum vertical leap of 38.5 inches tied him with five other players for seventh in that category, while Dotson was closer to the middle of the pack in standing vertical leap (30 inches).
Quentin Grimes had the second-slowest time among guards in the three-quarter court sprint (3.54 seconds) and had the fourth-worst time among guards in the shuttle run (3.28 seconds). Grimes finished the lane agility drill in 10.83 seconds and posted a max vertical of 36 inches, with a standing vertical of 27.5 inches.
Both Dotson and Grimes said this week at the combine they remain undecided about whether they will return to KU or stay in the draft. Lawson is expected to keep his name in the draft. The withdrawal deadline is May 29.