- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 24, 2018

The ball would bounce on the floor at the start of each Wizards possession before Ty Lawson picked it up. In the few seconds between, the veteran point guard would look toward the bench at coach Scott Brooks.

“I’d tell Otto (Porter) to let it bounce so I could ask coach what to run,” Lawson said.

Signed two days before the start of the playoffs, Lawson was new to the Wizards’ scheme. He estimated last week that he knew 60-70 percent of the playbook, getting down the concepts but not memorizing the various options in each play.

Now, Lawson is backing up All-Star John Wall in a first-round playoff series knotted up 2-2 ahead of Wednesday night’s Game 5 against the Raptors in Toronto. 

The fact Lawson is back in the NBA — let alone playing a key role on a playoff team — is a strange sight. A year ago, the 30-year-old former North Carolina star uprooted his life to play in China for the Shandong Golden Stars on a one-year, $2.4 million deal. He did so after bouncing through three NBA teams — the Houston Rockets, Indiana Pacers and the Sacramento Kings — in the span of a year.

But when the Chinese season ended recently, Lawson was free to return to the NBA. Someone just had to want him.

The Wizards did, and Lawson has responded by supplanting guard Tomas Satoransky in the rotation. He’s getting meaningful playoff minutes, averaging 6.3 points in 20.7 minutes per game.

“I was excited. Who doesn’t want to be in the NBA?” Lawson said. “I was ready to go. I was ready to get on the plane once I got that call.”

Lawson, who was born in Clinton, Maryland, didn’t have to wait long to join the Wizards. His plane landed at 8 a.m. — and hours later, he was at the team’s shootaround, packing up afterward for the trip to Toronto and the start of the Wizards’ series against the Raptors.

Lawson’s signing raised some eyebrows. He was the team’s fifth point guard. If they were going to add someone this late in the season, why not add a wing, a position where the team lacks depth? Tomas Satoransky, meanwhile, had done an impressive job filling in for John Wall, who missed eight weeks recovering from knee surgery.

But Brooks, who faced Lawson four times per season as the then-coach of the Oklahoma City Thunder, knew what the former Denver Nuggets standout could do. Back then, Lawson, a 2009 first-rounder, was an All-Star caliber point guard whose speed anchored a 2013 Nuggets squad that won 57 games.

“He’s a problem,” Brooks said. “You have to be able to contain his speed. He was able to finish around bigs and has all the tricks. He’s a good addition. … He can definitely have an impact on our team.”

Lawson has baggage, though.

In July 2015, he was arrested for his fourth DUI — and second of the year. He was traded five days later to the Houston Rockets. Following the deal, Nuggets owner Josh Kroenke told Yahoo Sports he could smell alcohol on Lawson during practices.

In Houston, Lawson never fit on the court next to James Harden. He was bought out in March, leading him to sign with the Indiana Pacers for the rest of the season. His stats cratered.

With the Kings, Lawson had a quiet year, averaging 9.9 points and 4.8 assists in 69 games last season. In March 2017, Denver police, however, issued a warrant for his arrest for violating his parole, alleging he tested positive for alcohol three times. Lawson’s attorney denied the violation in court.

Brooks said the Wizards tracked Lawson’s play in China, and they found he was playing well.

Since joining the Wizards, he’s been aggressive on the court, attacking the defense with his speed. He’s more of an offensive threat than Satoransky, which could explain why Brooks opted to use him instead.

Lawson said he learned a lot on his previous NBA stops.

“I was probably deferring a lot,” Lawson said. “I think I didn’t play my game at all. Now’s like, ‘Be aggressive and then we’ll figure it out.’”

Lawson said the coach’s decision to insert him into the regular rotation in Game 2 came as “a little bit of a shock.”

“When I first got in, it was like eight minutes to go, and I was like ‘Oh, who?’” Lawson said. “I looked up and then ran in. But once I got my feet wet, and hit my first shot, it felt like I was back at home.”

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