USC Men's Basketball

South Carolina’s A.J. Lawson is a top-50 NBA prospect, says one national analyst

On the same night P.J. Dozier made his debut for the Boston Celtics, A.J. Lawson scored a career-high 25 points for the South Carolina Gamecocks.

The two have been connected since USC coach Frank Martin compared Lawson to Dozier after signing the 6-foot-7 Canadian guard in June. Dozier spent two seasons with Carolina before entering the 2017 NBA Draft. Lawson’s only seven games into his college career, but NBA buzz has begun.

Sam Vecenie of The Athletic released his “NBA Draft Big Board” on Wednesday and has Lawson as his No. 49 prospect for the 2019 draft. One-time Gamecock Brian Bowen, who now plays for the Sydney Kings in Australia, comes in at No. 62. Spartanburg’s Zion Williamson (Duke) is No. 1.

Lawson leads South Carolina (4-3) in scoring (14.9 points per game) and assists (3.7). Dozier ended his freshman year averaging 6.7 points and 2.1 assists. He went for 13.9 and 2.8 as a sophomore as the Gamecocks advanced to the Final Four. He went undrafted and signed with the Oklahoma City Thunder.

“A.J.’s a faster player,” Martin said Monday. “P.J. was never a blur. P.J. played with feel and size. P.J., as I got to know him as a player, I needed to get him where he could get between the elbows. And when he got in that space there, he was pretty darn good. I didn’t understand that watching him in high school basketball. I learned that from him once he got here.

“A.J.’s a pretty good defender on the ball. He’s not there yet. He doesn’t understand how good he can be at that yet.”

USC is playing at a much faster pace with Lawson at lead guard, compared to the Dozier era. This year’s Gamecocks are No. 27 nationally in tempo, according to Ken Pomeroy’s efficiency ratings. They peaked at No. 84 with Dozier.

“If he gets in the open court, he’s a blur,” Martin said of Lawson. “He’s coming downhill with that ball at 100 miles per hour and he’s trying to get to the rim.”

Chris Silva, Carolina’s senior forward who tested the NBA waters last spring, is not among Vecenie’s top 100 prospects.

Vecenie said he put the board together based on scouting and conversations he’s shared with “NBA executives, college coaches and other evaluators.”

The Gamecocks play at Wyoming on Wednesday night.

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Andrew Ramspacher has been covering college athletics since 2010, serving as The State’s USC men’s basketball beat writer since October 2017. His work has been recognized by the Associated Press Sports Editors, Virginia Press Association and West Virginia Press Association. At a program-listed 5-foot-10, he’s always been destined to write about the game. Not play it.
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