Gani Lawal Showing Improvement in D-League After Rough Start
Lawal, a 22-year-old power forward out of Georgia Tech, was assigned to the Energy because he wasn't in Phoenix's rotation so the Suns' brass decided the rookie needed to get some minutes. While Lawal is getting plenty of playing time as coach Nick Nurse's sixth man, he hasn't been able to do much with it as he was averaging just 9.8 points on 39 percent shooting in his first four outings in the D-League.
Friday night, however, with the Energy traveling to Tulsa, Okla. to play the Oklahoma City Thunder-owned Tulsa 66ers, Lawal may have reached the low point of his young professional career: Lawal fouled out in just 10 minutes and 17 seconds of court time. Matched up against fellow second round Ryan Reid, the former Yellow Jacket managed just two points and one rebound before picking up his sixth foul with 9:33 left in the game.
It seemed almost as if it was an entirely different player that took the court in Lawal's No. 24 jersey Saturday, though, as the power forward scored 23 points and added six rebounds in 31 minutes and 36 seconds of playing time looking particularly impressive in the fourth quarter where he'd score 13 points while trying to keep the Energy from losing their first game of the season.
Lawal wasn't able to keep the Energy out of the loss column as his team fell 116-108 to last year's D-League runners-up, though he did show that he's certainly improving as he gets more comfortable on the court.
To begin Saturday night's affair, it was clear that he was looking for his offense which is what any NBA player that managed just one field goal attempt before fouling out in his previous NBA D-League game is apt to do and therefore not much of an issue.
Eventually, it wasn't an issue at all that Lawal was looking to score as he showed that he was comfortable on the court with a nice reverse lay-up followed by a drive from the top of the key that included what seemed to be a crossover, spin move and two up-and-unders before finding himself eye-to-eye with the rim. Lawal missed the ensuing attempt due to what was probably his surprise that it worked after all of his early-season struggles, but he showed that he knew what he was doing by taking the slower Marcus Lewis off of the dribble.
Minute-by-minute, Lawal began to look better as he drew a a foul driving to the hoop and then made a nice baby hook shot a couple of possessions later after a nice seal of his defender to allow more room to catch the entry pass. Not long after, Lawal dove to the basket trailing point guard Curtis Stinson which eventually earned him a good look at a dunk attempt before being fouled to get to the line.
Lawal began the fourth quarter with a bang. Just 12 seconds into the final stanza, Lawal caught an alley-oop from teammate Chris Lofton after perfectly executing the pick-and-roll to give Lawal double-digits in the points column with 11, a feat he hadn't reached in his prior three games.
For the rest of the game, Lawal finally looked like he belonged, running the pick-and-roll to perfection on his way to a 12 point quarter that included multiple highlight reel finishes and playing solid defense while matched up with Cole Aldrich, the 11th overall pick in this year's NBA Draft who is currently on assignment from the Oklahoma City Thunder.
In the end, Lawal might never be an elite-level player or even a starter in the NBA, but his bounce-back game Saturday night proved that he has the determination to keep improving and seems to only be getting better with more playing time.