WASHINGTON – Less than three weeks ago, Ty Lawson was playing professional basketball in China.
Nowadays, he’s one of the first subs off the bench for the Washington Wizards in their Eastern Conference first-round series against the Toronto Raptors.
Lawson is hardly the only player who went from not having a spot on an NBA roster to getting some run, and maybe even filling a key role, during these playoffs. As much as teams develop plans for acquiring talent via the draft, free agency or trades, sometimes a late pickup can become a piece that completes the puzzle.
“It’s not ideal,” Wizards coach Scott Brooks said about adding someone on short notice. “It (requires) a lot of work that has to be done in trying to figure it out and try to incorporate him and integrate him into our offense and defensive schemes.”
With Lawson, though, Brooks added, “It probably is not as much of a disadvantage because he’s been in the league, understands the NBA and understands the schemes. A lot of the schemes are the same. It’s just different names and a lot of the plays are the same but different names. He picks up things pretty quick. His IQ level is extremely high.”
The series, which the Raptors lead 3-2 heading into Game 6 on Friday, has been Lawson’s first NBA action in about a year. He was with the Sacramento Kings last season and spent time with three other clubs before that; Lawson was always a success on the court, although a couple of arrests in 2015 on drunken driving charges drew unwanted attention.
His sudden return to the league’s hardwoods came in Game 2 against Toronto, when Brooks turned to his 30-year-old backup and told him to replace All-Star John Wall.
“It was a little bit of a shock. … I was like, ‘Who?’“ Lawson said. “Once I got my feet wet, hit my first shot, I felt like I was back at home.”
Sure looks that way.
The guard, a 2009 first-round draft pick, is averaging 5.8 points, 3.8 assists and 2.5 rebounds in 19 minutes per game, and he’s made a total of only three turnovers for the Wizards.
“That’s a smaller version of John Wall. He’s so quick. … Push the pace. Get out in transition,” Wizards forward Otto Porter Jr. said. “Someone you can’t sleep on. He might be small, but he can create a lot of havoc in the paint. A lot of us know Ty, just from playing against him, so it wasn’t nothing to get him acquainted with everybody.”
There have been other such easy fits.
For all the talk about the Philadelphia 76ers’ “process” that landed cornerstone stars Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, for example, they moved into the East semifinals with notable contributions against the Miami Heat from two more impromptu arrivals, 3-point specialist Marco Belinelli and forward Ersan Ilyasova.
The team signed both in February after they were sent packing by worst-in-the-East Atlanta. Belinelli is averaging 16.6 points in the playoffs, while Ilyasova is putting up 10.8 points and 9.2 rebounds, including three of his five career 10-rebound games.
When the 76ers picked up Ilyasova, they waived Trevor Booker, who then went to the Indiana Pacers. Booker has added a physical presence for Indiana in its series against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
As Oklahoma City faces the Utah Jazz, the Thunder are starting Corey Brewer, who was brought in last month after he was bought out by the Los Angeles Lakers. Greg Monroe, added by the Celtics after being bought out by Phoenix, entered Thursday night’s Game 6 of Boston’s series against the Milwaukee Bucks averaging 7.0 points and 5.2 rebounds.
Even former league MVP Derrick Rose became available out of nowhere, signing with the Timberwolves in March. As part of a reserve unit that had been quiet most of the season, he offered some instant offense in Minnesota’s first-round loss to the Houston Rockets.
For the Wizards, Lawson stepped in as a reliable and experienced backup to Wall.
“We need his scoring, we need his playmaking, we need his toughness, we need his ability to get into the paint,” Brooks said. “And he plays with no fear.”
Lawson crammed for his debut by watching Washington’s main plays on an iPad, learning about 60 to 70 percent of the offense that way. In his first game, he’d ask a teammate to let the basketball bounce on an inbound pass so Lawson would have a moment to ask Brooks which play to run.
But Lawson also relied on a simple mindset.
“I was like, ‘Be aggressive,“’ he said, “‘and we’ll figure it out.“’
AP Sports Writers Cliff Brunt, Dave Campbell, Dan Gelston, Kyle Hightower and Michael Marot contributed to this report.
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