Gani Lawal is already halfway through his 10-game trip to Iowa, and the results have been erratic, to say the least. His back-to-back set against Tulsa over the weekend could not possibly have had two more contrasting outcomes.
In the team's first game back from a three-day layoff, Lawal was not on his best game, to put it lightly. Scott Schroeder, a man who knows a little something on the subject, went so far as to say that "he may have had the worst game any NBA-assigned player has ever had". Suffice to say, that's certainly not the most spirited endorsement.
Just one look at the box score really tells you everything you need to know. Two points, one rebound, 0-2 from the line, and six fouls in 10 minutes. Lawal continually got beat inside, and picked up numerous cheap fouls trying to get back into position.
Fouling has continued to be a problem with Gani. Through four games, Lawal is averaging four fouls per contest in only 23 minutes. He still seems to struggle to adjust to the speed of the professional game, as half of his six fouls on Friday were a result of him attempting to recover from getting beaten by his man.
Still, for as bad as he looked on Friday, Gani looked every bit like the NBA player we hope he can be on Saturday.
Working again as the sixth man, the Georgia Tech standout came off the bench and ignited the Energy with his hustle. More importantly, however, he stepped up big when it mattered -- ripping off 13 points in the fourth quarter. Lawal looked more comfortable on the court than he had thus far in the trip. He played within himself and never tried to force the issue.
Though, that's not to say that he wasn't aggressive. Gani continually looked for his offense, working the court with several drives to the basket, and showing his big-man handles along the way -- throwing in a crossover or two. As the game progressed, Lawal settled in and began showing off a couple nifty post moves that forced the interior defense to play tight on him, which opened up opportunities for the former Yellow Jacket to use his considerable quickness.
Of course, the brightest spot came in his fantastic fourth quarter. In what must sound like music to Suns fans' ears, Lawal and his point guards relentlessly pick-and-rolled the Tusla 66ers with a precision that would make Steve Nash proud. Gani rolled hard to basket over and over again, piling up point after point, crushing down four slam dunks, hitting a jump shot for good measure, and a coming away with a couple highlight reel finishes when it was all said and done.
Making this feat more impressive was the fact that most of this offensive explosion was directly at the expense of the 11th pick in the NBA draft, Oklahoma City's Cole Aldrich. Though, to improve matters even further, not only did Lawal dominate offensively against the former Jayhawk, but the young Sun played superb interior defense, holding the fellow rookie to just three shots in the final period.
Gani's final stat-line: 23 points, six rebounds, one block and two brand-new posters. Not a bad night's work.
After the game, Energy coach Nick Nurse spoke about the young forward.
"His attitude's been great. He's been a great teammate. He's worked hard. He's trying to get better. He's taking this very seriously because he understands he needs to improve on some areas." Nurse said. "Obviously his biggest strength is his rebounding. He really can chase the ball on the glass. He's got some good athleticism, he's got some good hands and he's got a pretty good sense of how to rebound so no question about it that's his best NBA level thing that he can do right now."
Still, the fact remains that Gani will always be a tad undersized for his natural position; a sentiment which Nurse believes may only cause the young man to work harder.
"He's just not really big enough to play the five in the NBA. The game's moving away to the fours that shoot the three and play face up. He's going to have to carve out a niche as one of those rebounding fours; one of those old-school, rugged rebounding fours that's just such a force on the glass and [he can] develop his shooting over the years."
Honestly, at this point I'm sure we would all sign right up for that.
After five games, Lawal is averaging 12.4 points, 6.2 rebounds, and .8 blocks per game. Next, the Iowa Energy will face the Sioux Falls Skyforce in a two-game set before playing one game against the Dakota.