Houston Rockets: Ty Lawson Has His Day In Court

Dec 12, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets guard Ty Lawson (3) shoots the ball during a game against the Los Angeles Lakers at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 12, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets guard Ty Lawson (3) shoots the ball during a game against the Los Angeles Lakers at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports /

Embattled point guard Ty Lawson of the Houston Rockets had his day in court on Thursday to answer for DUI charges.

Ty Lawson traveled to Denver on Thursday for his sentencing hearing resulting from DUI charges stemming from a Jan. 23, 2015, roadside arrest. Lawson, now of the Houston Rockets, had been at a charity event earlier that evening in Denver and was pulled over for going 61 mph in a 35 zone, and had charges laid against him as the officer on the scene observed signs of intoxication.

Lawson appeared briefly in Denver County Court on Thursday, and was granted a continuance of his hearing until March, due to a discrepancy stemming from a July DUI arrest in Los Angeles. Following that July arrest, Lawson spent 30 days in a court-ordered rehab stint at Cliffside Malibu in California.

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Lawson could face up to 180 days in prison if convicted of all charges, so while a delay in sentencing may save at least most of the rest of his season with the Rockets, he’s still going to have to deal with the consequences of his actions in the near future. It seems more than possible that his dramatic regression this season stems from stresses and distractions revolving around his legal issues.

So far this season Lawson is averaging 6.4 points and 4.2 assists per game with shooting splits of .369/.323/.695, each of which are career lows by a wide margin, with the exception of assists. In his rookie season, Lawson averaged 3.1 assists per game.

The Rockets have simply been better when Lawson is off the floor this season. While in his career, his offensive rating (points scored per 100 possessions) is 114 and his defensive rating is 110, producing a net rating of +4.0, this season the Rockets are being outscored 111-97 when Lawson is on the floor, producing a net rating of -14 points per 100 possessions (per Basketball-Reference.com).

Most damning of all, the Rockets are a stunning 7-0 in games where Lawson does not play. They’ve beaten the Los Angeles Clippers, the Indiana Pacers, the Memphis Grizzlies and swept a home-and-home series with the Utah Jazz without Lawson in the lineup.

It’s too easy to scapegoat Lawson for all the ills that have befallen the Rockets this season, as they did a lot wrong early in the year. They have been disorganized and struggled to produce an effort level befitting an NBA team.

They got their head coach, Kevin McHale, fired 11 games into the season, following a playoff and offseason in which he led the Rockets to the Western Conference Finals and was rewarded with a $12 million extension. It’s not all Lawson’s fault, but his culpability can’t be dismissed.

The Rockets are a better team without Ty Lawson on the floor, and that has been evident for much of the season.

On the other side of the coin, he has been better since his two-game suspension on Dec. 19 and 21 against the Clippers and the Charlotte Hornets.

Since that point, Lawson has played in seven games, averaging 8.3 points and 4.3 assists per game on .511/.429/.750 shooting splits, and averaging a +1.9 differential per game. That seems downright efficient to me.

Naturally, because Ty Lawson circa 2015-16 can’t have nice things, the Rockets have gone 2-5 in those seven games, while going 6-0 in the games he’s missed since Dec. 19.

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Lawson could still be an invaluable asset to the Rockets if he can get his game back in gear. He’s talented, he’s healthy and he should have a chip on his shoulder with all the chatter about him in the past 12 months.

If he can be harnessed properly, he may yet be of some worth to this team. On a roster without any defined leadership heirarchy, and an unproven (although respected) head coach in J.B. Bickerstaff, setting Lawson back on the right path might be the biggest challenge of all to the Rockets in this most challenging of seasons.