Ty Lawson Gives Karl Something to Like About a Rookie
Could it be that Ty Lawson, in his very first NBA game, dispelled the myth that Karl doesn't have an appreciation for rookies?
"Things might be changing,'' Lawson said. "Every day up until (Wednesday) he wrote 'Rookie.' But he changed it to 'Ty.' I don't know what that means.''
What it means is Karl has got himself one heck of a rookie. Lawson scored 17 points and handed out six assists to help the Nuggets to a 114-105 opening-night win over Utah at the Pepsi Center.
Lawson was taken with the No. 18 pick by Minnesota, and shipped to the Nuggets on draft night. All Lawson did Wednesday was record more points than the draft's top five selections have combined for so far.
OK, so top pick Blake Griffin is injured and No. 5 selection Ricky Rubio has remained in Spain. But No. 2 Hasheem Thabeet went scoreless in his debut, No. 3 James Harden had five points and No. 4 Tyreke Evans got 10. So the top five picks are at 15.
The only rookie to have scored more in a game so far has been No. 6 pick Jonny Flynn, who had 18 in his Wednesday debut for Minnesota. So it wasn't too bad of an effort for a rookie in his first game with a Karl team.
"Everybody was saying, 'Coach Karl doesn't like rookies. He doesn't like rookies,''' said Lawson, who logged 26 minutes. "So it surprised me how much I played.''
We interrupt this article to let it be known Karl dislikes the suggestion he doesn't play rookies. But it was carefully phrased to Karl that this has been a "myth.''
Myths aren't always true. And the one about Karl and rookies certainly wasn't Wednesday.
"I don't know which (deserving) rookie I didn't play,'' said Karl, who mostly has coached teams that won a lot of games and didn't need rookies to play much, and those rookies also were often low picks. "Everybody says Michael Redd (in 2000-01). Michael Redd came to Milwaukee about 230 pounds and I told him, 'Until you have a body, I'm not going to play you.' He worked on his body.''
There are no problems with Lawson's body. That is, if you can see it.
"He's so quick,'' said Nuggets forward Carmelo Anthony, who scored a game-most 30 points and had a ridiculous dunk midway through the fourth quarter in the face of Utah forward Paul Millsap. "We were trying to tell George the whole training camp that he wants us to run, but, when we're in a game with him, he's beating everybody down the court.''
Lawson gives the Nuggets a dimension they didn't have. Starting point guard Chauncey Billups is an All-Star and his top reserve (at least for now) Anthony Carter is loved by Karl. But neither conjures up thoughts of Usain Bolt when they go up and down the court.
"He gets in the paint, finding open guys,'' Billups said of Lawson. "That's something that's much needed, especially when you have shooters on the perimeter that can knock down open shots ... He does give us a great dimension we didn't have. He's got speed.''
Lawson also has confidence. Not that he's comparing himself to New Orleans star Chris Paul, but that's the name Lawson brought up when asked about his game.
"Like the Hornets' dimension, the way they play with Chris Paul,'' Lawson said. "He comes in the game and gets a lot of pick and rolls and gets into the gaps and gets everybody easy shots. That's the dimension I give.''
It's one that certainly will come in handy during the first seven games, when Denver shooting guard J.R. Smith serves an NBA suspension for pleading guilty to reckless driving for a 2007 accident that killed a passenger in his car. With Smith out and Karl not excited about starting Arron Afflalo or Joey Graham against a division rival, he surprisingly opened Wednesday with Carter at shooting guard.
For rotations, that made it easier for Lawson to get minutes. He played 14 in the second half, when he had 11 points as Denver outscored Utah 60-50 to overcome a 55-54 deficit.
But what will happen when Smith returns? Karl could have a very big decision to make. Carter, 34, is quite heady but would get lapped in any race with Lawson, who turns 22 Tuesday.
At least Karl doesn't have to think about that for a while. On Wednesday, he was too busy being in disbelief over how well Lawson did in his debut.
"Yeah,'' said Karl, admitting he was surprised. "We needed it, and we got (it from) him.''
Meanwhile, NBA historians are busy turning back dusty pages to find the last time Karl, who debuted as a coach in 1984, had a rookie score that many points in his first game.
Chris Tomasson can be reached at email@example.com.