USC Men's Basketball

AJ Lawson’s NBA draft path could follow example set by rival SEC player

National publications such as CBS Sports, Sporting News and The Athletic have released mock NBA drafts in the past few days and all have included Kentucky’s P.J. Washington among the first 14 selections.

The above suggests Washington made a sound decision last spring by returning for his sophomore season with the Wildcats, after testing the waters and getting a feel for his draft stock. The 6-foot-8 forward wasn’t initially viewed as a can’t-miss prospect, so he came back, made first-team All-SEC and now could be a lottery pick.

Washington is the shining example ESPN’s Jonathan Givony pointed to when asked by The State for a player who can relate to A.J. Lawson’s situation. The South Carolina freshman declared for the draft on April 17. He hasn’t hired an agent and could very well return to the Gamecocks. Givony doesn’t have Lawson among his top 100 prospects for this upcoming draft, but does list him as a first rounder — No. 26 overall to Portland — in a 2020 mock draft.

“It’s the physical tools, it’s versatility, it’s the creativity with the ball in his hands,” Givony said of Lawson’s attractive skills. “The flashes of shot-making ability, the flashes of defense. He checks off a couple of boxes, so if you believe in your strength program, your development system, it’s a guy that can develop into something pretty interesting for years down the line.”

Lawson, a native Canadian who doesn’t turn 19 until July, made the SEC’s all-freshman team last season after averaging 13.4 points, 4.3 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game. The 41 percent shooter is No. 90 on Sports Illustrated top 100 prospects for this year’s draft (two round, 60 picks).

“I think he’s really talented long-term,” Givony said. “Some of the flashes he showed this year were very impressive. I think it’s just a matter of time for him. Physically, especially. He reclassified. So he really could have been his finishing his fourth year of high school right now.

“So it’s just a matter of a team’s appetite for being patient and wanting to develop a guy. There might be someone this year in the second round that says, ‘Hey, we’ll take a flier on this kid and we’ll stick him in the G League and we’ll see what happens.’”

Lawson has until May 29 to decide to remain in the draft or return to school.

Givony has Washington as his No. 15 prospect in this year’s draft.

“P.J. Washington is a good example,” Givony said. “He was probably like in the mid-second round, in the 40-60 range last year. And he came back and has a chance to go in the lottery now.

“It doesn’t happen for everybody, so there’s no guarantees. For every P.J. Washington, there’s three stories of guys who flamed out completely. So there’s no guarantees.”

Givony reported this week that Lawson declined an invite to the NBA’s new G League combine. Lawson will opt to work out individually with NBA teams. 

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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