There are far easier paths to an NBA career than the one Dedric Lawson must now traverse.
No one expected the offensively gifted forward who spent his redshirt junior season at Kansas leading the Big 12 in scoring and rebounding to become a lottery pick or first round pick in Thursday night’s draft. Most experts didn’t even project Lawson as a second round pick, and they were proven correct.
The undrafted Lawson at least has a shot, though, thanks to the Golden State Warriors offering him a spot on their summer league roster. And if he’s going to prove himself deserving of a regular season spot with the defending Western Conference champs or one of the league’s other 29 teams, it will likely be Lawson’s jump shot that determines his staying power.
He may be 6-foot-8.5 in shoes and weigh 233 pounds, but Lawson isn’t going to suddenly become an elite finisher at the rim or a sturdy defender of the paint. His successes, whether great or few in number, will come when he has the ball in his hands outside of the post.
Lawson proved to be a reliable 3-point shooter as a big during his one season playing for the Jayhawks, knocking down 39.3% from outside (35 for 89 in 36 games).
And, believe it or not, that particular skill actually is one that Golden State could use some more of next season. Even though the greatest shooter of all time, Steph Curry, will still be around, Kevin Durant is widely expected to bolt in free agency, and even if Durant were to re-sign with the Warriors his ruptured right Achilles’ tendon will most likely sideline him for all of the 2019-20 schedule. Then there’s the matter of sharpshooter Klay Thompson. Curry’s Splash Brother tore an ACL in the Warriors’ Game 6 loss to Toronto in the NBA Finals. Most expect Golden State to re-sign Thompson, who is a free agent, but his knee injury will force him to miss most if not all of next season, as well.
In that regard, it’s not completely absurd to talk yourself into a scenario in which Lawson excels offensively this summer, gets a training camp invite as a result and ultimately becomes a reserve forward worth keeping around on the cheap.
However, it will take Lawson looking proficient and maybe even playing above his head to make that a reality. Though the only players currently under contract with the Warriors for next season are Curry, Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala, Jacob Evans, Damian Jones, Shaun Livingston and Alfonzo McKinnie — and the contracts of Livingston and McKinnie aren’t guaranteed — there are incoming rookies who soon will join that list, and Lawson will have to either outperform them or prove he meshes well with them.
Golden State drafted shooting guard Jordan Poole late in the first round, but both of the organization’s second round choices qualify as competition for Lawson, because they are forwards and will be given a priority over a summer league roster player.
Alen Smailagic, the No. 39 pick in the draft, is a player in whom the Warriors truly are invested. A 6-10 big known for his pick-and-pop ability as well as slashing, Smailagic spent this past year playing for Golden State’s G League team, Santa Cruz.
Two picks later, Golden State snatched up another forward, 6-6 Eric Paschall, from Villanova. The hard-nosed Paschall is tough enough to defend inside even though he is undersized, and he shot 34.8% from 3-point range as a college senior.
Lawson’s chances to stick with the Warriors would seem far more feasible if Smailagic and Paschall weren’t in the mix. We don’t yet know what other forwards Golden State may add this offseason, and there already are four ahead of Lawson in the pecking order, with Green, Iguodala and the two rookies, not to mention McKinnie, if he’s back.
The good news for Lawson, though, is that he has the flexibility to end up with another franchise if he plays to his strengths with the Warriors’ summer league team. He may lack the athleticism and explosiveness of other rookies, but the 21-year-old prospect understands the game. If Lawson fits in well offensively with his summer teammates as a shooter and ball mover — and don’t forget that he can be an effective rebounder, too — that could be enough to impress other team’s scouts and coaches.
Organizations looking to spend big this summer in free agency will have to fill out their rosters with inexpensive players. And if a maxed out team ends up needing a big who can shoot and pass, that would be an ideal landing spot for the forward from Memphis with an enviable basketball IQ.
Considering the 2018 draft concluded just a week ago, it’s still difficult to picture second-round picks Devonte’ Graham and Svi Mykhailiuk playing in their respective new NBA uniforms instead of the University of Kansas jerseys and shorts they sported every time they hit the court the past four years.
So perhaps now is as good a time as any to start preparing yourself for the idea of incoming freshman Quentin Grimes swapping his KU gear for an NBA fit next summer.
A 6-foot-5 combo guard from The Woodlands, Texas, Grimes, of course, hasn’t declared himself a one-and-done talent yet.
But all early indications point toward him becoming a lottery pick in 2019.
Twelve months out form the next NBA Draft, mock projections from multiple outlets list Grimes, coming off an MVP performance at the FIBA Americas U18 Championship, as a top-10 prospect.
According to six different mock drafts, Grimes’ current value ranks somewhere between the fourth- and 19th-best player to potentially be available, and most have him coming off the board before the 10th pick:
• ESPN - No. 6
• Sports Illustrated - No. 7
• CBS Sports - No. 4
• NBC Sports - No. 5
• Bleacher Report - No. 19
• SB Nation - No. 10
According to SI’s Jeremy Woo, Grimes checks “all the boxes” for a combo guard.
“Grimes has a nice mix of positional size, ball-handling ability and passing feel and is ready for the college level,” Woo wrote. “He has impressive coordination for his size and finishes pretty well around the rim. He stands to be more aggressive defending and imposing his will on the game in all facets, and appears to need the ball in his hands to thrive right now. His 3-point shot is also a little shaky at times. As long as Grimes rises to the occasion at Kansas, the lottery should be within reach.”
That breakdown falls in line with what KU coach Bill Self said about the freshman guard, upon returning to Lawrence from their gold-medal trip to Canada, in June. The 18-year-old Grimes hasn’t yet played a game for the Jayhawks and Self already called him “probably as complete a guard as we’ve ever had.”
At this point, though, no other Jayhawks project as first-round prospects for 2019.
While not every mock draft includes a second-round forecast, ESPN classified junior-to-be Udoka Azubuike, who dipped his large toes into the NBA waters this past spring, as the No. 48 potential draftee.
SI doesn’t include KU’s 7-foot center on its list, but does give 6-9 forward Dedric Lawson a spot near the middle of the second round, at No. 42.
“While not an exceptional athlete, Lawson has been highly productive on both ends of the glass and around the basket,” Woo wrote of the transfer from Memphis, who will make his KU debut this coming season, “and has shown inconsistent but functional set shooting touch from outside. He could be in position for a big year as part of what’s essentially a brand new Jayhawks rotation, and should be able to rejuvenate his draft stock in the process.”
Grimes, Azubuike and Lawson all will have plenty of opportunities to improve — or hurt — their stock in the months ahead, and it shouldn’t surprise anybody if all three ultimately decide to enter the drat next year.
KU’s 2018-19 roster might not have any seniors on it, but, as usual, you should count on the best Jayhawks exploring their NBA options and possibly deciding to leave early.
Basketball lifer Larry Brown coached the Denver Nuggets, UCLA Bruins, New Jersey Nets, Kansas Jayhawks, San Antonio Spurs, Los Angeles Clippers, Indiana Pacers, Philadelphia 76ers, Detroit Pistons, New York Knicks, Charlotte Bobcats and SMU Mustangs during the course of the past 40-plus years, after getting his start in the profession with the ABA’s Carolina Cougars.
Two years as a retiree hasn’t kept the former coaching nomad from spending time around the game, though. Brown arrived in San Antonio this past week with the Kansas contingent at the Final Four, three decades removed from winning it all with the Jayhawks.
Now that leading a team is no longer his job, Brown explained what he misses about his former life.
“I don’t like games. I like being around the coaches and teaching the kids,” he told a group of reporters on the eve of the national semifinals. “And I get a little frustrated, because I don’t think a lot of kids are getting taught. They’re leaving too early. They’re thinking they’re in the NBA before they play a college game. A lot of them think they’re failures if they don’t make it, and that troubles me.”
The compositions of the teams that advanced out of their regionals and made it to the Alamodome, though, offered Brown encouragement on that front. Although one-and-done talents such as Duke’s Jahlil Okafor, Kentucky’s Anthony Davis and Syracuse’s Carmelo Anthony have helped lead their teams to six NCAA Tournament wins and a national title in the past, this March’s Final Four field lacked one such freshman star.
Seniors Devonte’ Graham and Svi Mykhailiuk, as well as junior Lagerald Vick and Malik Newman, in his third season with a college program, were instrumental in getting KU to San Antonio. The same was true of Loyola seniors Ben Richardson, Donte Ingram, and Aundre Jackson, plus junior Clayton Custer. Senior Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and juniors Moe Wagner and Charles Matthews propelled Michigan to the Final Four, as did Villanova juniors Jalen Brunson, Mikal Bridges, Eric Paschall and Phil Booth.
“It seems to me the longer they stay, the better they are and the more chance they’ll have to graduate and make something of their lives,” Brown said, while praising KU’s Bill Self, Loyola’s Porter Moser, Michigan’s John Beilein and Villanova’s Jay Wright for being coaches who go about their business “the right way.”
From Brown’s perspective, college basketball provides players with “an unbelievable opportunity” to receive an education and “make their lives better,” while crafting their skills in the hope of extending their basketball experience to the professional ranks.
However, Brown isn’t against allowing high school players to skip college completely and enter the NBA Draft — a system the league went away from in 2006, leading to college basketball’s current era of one-and-dones.
“Golfer, tennis player, musician, you can come out if you have a gift,” Brown offered, in regards to other young adults turning their skills into jobs without ever attending a university.
Here’s the catch. Brown would be in favor of keeping those players who go to college with a program for multiple years, instead of giving them the option to declare for the draft after as little as one year of education.
“If they go to school, I’d like to see them stay as long as possible,” he said.
A similar structure is in place for the MLB draft. A player can declare out of high school. But once a baseball player joins a college program, he can’t turn pro until completing his third year. In the NFL, a player has to be three years removed form high school graduation to turn pro.
“To me the longer you stay, the better your life’s gonna be, the better you’re gonna impact others,” Brown said. “And then when you do get to the NBA the better prepared you’re gonna be.”
The longtime coach, who has observed from both sides of the spectrum, called college basketball “the greatest minor-league system in the world.” Brown conjectured struggling young NBA players who leave college after one year weren’t ready to become professionals when they declared.
“And a lot of them, they have developmental coaches,” Brown said. “We need teachers.”
The man who owns both an NCAA and NBA championship ring said this year’s Final Four featured four “great teachers.”
“But,” he added, wearing a grin, “I’m like a voice in the wind.”
Like fellow one-and-done Jayhawk Kelly Oubre Jr., Kansas freshman forward Cliff Alexander won’t have a press conference to discuss his decision to leave early and enter the NBA Draft.
An NCAA investigation into his eligibility that forced KU to keep Alexander off the court for the final eight games of the season surely had much to do with that.
The 6-foot-8 big man from Chicago played 28 games for Kansas, started six of those and finished his short-lived career as a Jayhawk averaging 7.1 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.3 blocks, while shooting 56.6% from the floor and 67.1% from the free-throw line.
Despite unpredictable production on the floor and off-the-court issues surrounding an alleged extra benefit for a family member, Alexander says in a video released by KU Athletics that he will remember his time with the program fondly.
Alexander says his first trip to Allen Fieldhouse, the venue that became his temporary basketball home, really stands out for him.
“It means a lot to me to know that a lot of great players have played in the fieldhouse,” Alexander says. “Basketball was invented here and one of the greatest coaches coached here, one of the greatest coaches still do coach here. It was just a great experience.”
(Give Alexander a pass on that “basketball was invented here” part of it. Someone on campus probably told him that or he inferred it from the tales of KU lore. Of course, the inventor of the game, Dr. James Naismith, coached at Kansas from 1898 to 1907.)
While the video doesn’t get into his reasons for leaving or his at times tumultuous season, it does give the young forward a chance to thank KU coach Bill Self and offer a final message to the Kansas fans.
“Thanks for being with me, supporting me the whole way. I love you guys and miss you guys. Rock chalk Jayhawk.”
Alexander reached double figures in scoring nine times in his lone season in Lawrence and twice had double-digit rebound totals.
The potential first-round pick showed brief flashes of what he might some day become as a player, but you can see in this chart from StatSheet.com just how erratic a year he had.
Here is a look back at Alexander’s most productive games for Kansas:
Nov. 24 vs. Rider: 10 points, 4 rebounds 4/4 FGs, 2/3 FTs in 13 minutes
Nov. 28 vs. Tennessee: 16 points, 4 rebounds, 5/6 FGs, 6/9 FTs in 20 minutes
Dec. 5 vs. Florida: 12 points, 10 rebounds, 2/4 FGs, 8/8 FTs in 19 minutes
Dec. 20 vs. Lafayette: 10 points, 5 rebounds, 2 blocks, 4/6 FGs, 2/2 FTs in 17 minutes
Jan. 4 vs UNLV: 10 points, 5 rebounds (4 offensive), 2 blocks, 5/12 FGs in 21 minutes
Jan. 10 vs. Texas Tech: 12 points, 5 rebounds, 2 blocks, 6/8 FGs in 15 minutes
Jan. 19 vs. Oklahoma: 13 points, 13 rebounds (7 offensive), 3 assists, 4/7 FGs, 5/7 FTs in 23 minutes
Jan. 24 at Texas: 15 points, 9 rebounds (5 offensive), 6/11 FGs, 3/6 FTs in 27 minutes
Feb. 10 at Texas Tech: 10 points, 5 rebounds, 4 blocks, 4/5 FGs, 2/3 FTs in 20 minutes