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RaptorsHQ Draft Prospect Preview #1 - Gani Lawal

RaptorsHQ takes the first in its series of prospect watches as the team prepares for next month's draft.  Today - Georgia Tech's Gani Lawal.

Over the next few weeks we'll be increasingly looking ahead to next month's draft, previewing various prospects and the process itself for the Toronto Raptors.  This year, in addition to our usual live looks at the prospects the Raptors' bring in for workouts, we're also beefing up our analysis with some additional statistical views, and opinions from various scouts and subject matter experts - the goal of course being to bring Raptors' fans the most comprehensive draft coverage of their team on the web.

This morning we kick things off with a bubble-first rounder, but a player who likely is on the Raptors' radar thanks to his defensive skills and athleticism, Georgia Tech's Gani Lawal.

Some readers may remember Lawal from last year's draft as he looked to enter the field before ulitmately returning to school for his Junior season.  It's debateable that it affected his stock that much as while he's progressed defensively, he lost touches on offense thanks to freshman sensation, and fellow pivot, Derrick Favours.

Here's what John Bird, from SB Nation's Georgia Tech blog, "From the Rumble-Seat" had to say about Lawal:

Gani Lawal, Georgia Tech PF #31

Gani will bring a refined low post presence to any NBA team that Drafts him.  Unlike younger players available in the Draft that have more questions than answers about their coachability and personal motivations, Gani has mountains of game experience against upper echelon college talent. Lawal played in 99 college games (48 of which were ACC conference games).  He's a strong , physical player that drew constant double teams throughout his college career.  Lawal prefers his back to the basket and has a myriad of low post moves. He has a serviceable mid range jumper.

NBA teams should take notice that Gani's rebounding per minute increased every year at Tech.  His free throw shooting percentage increased as well.  Both factors, to me, indicate that he was working during his free time and in the gym to improve his overall game as Paul Hewitt doesn't emphasize free throw shooting during practice time. 

The only statistics that went down Gani's final year were overall FG percentage and minutes per game as he was asked to play less or play further from the basket due to the inclusion of freshman Derrick Favors in the starting line up.  This didn't stop Gani from shooting 50 more free throws than the previous season, however.  The only effective defense for Gani in college was fouling him.

Generally speaking, Derrick was our big star last season but if Gani was off on a particular night, Georgia Tech was in for a long night.  Here's a piece I wrote illustrating my point.

A big thanks to John for the breakdown. 

So does Lawal make much sense as a lottery pick for the Raptors?

Not at present, even if they stay locked in at the 13th pick.  However this draft looks to be quite deep, and should Lawal fall into the second round, he might be a prospect Bryan Colangelo and co. want to take a very hard look at.  After all, the draft is about getting top value for cheap and is there really much difference between him and Amir Johnson, a player Toronto may now have to over-pay to keep?

I compared Lawal's final season stats (per 40 minutes, pace adjusted) at G-Tech with those of Amir Johnson's rookie season in Detroit (per 40, pace adjusted as well), split between the Pistons and their D League affiliate:

Min Pts FGA FG% FTA FT% Off
Lawal 25.8 19.2 13.2 52.9 9 57.2 4.3
Johnson 28.2 23.3 13.4 66.9 7.3 72.2 4.1
Def TOT Asts Stls Blks TOs PFs
Lawal 8.1 12.4 0.6 0.7 2 3.2 3.1
Johnson 5.6 9.6 1.6 1.2 2 3.2 5

Granted, it's not a perfect compare, however considering the amount of time Johnson spent in the D League in his rookie season, playing against essentially top level NCAA talent, it's better than simply comparing a rookie NBA season to that of a final college one.

And really, there's not a lot of difference is there?

Johnson appears to have been a slightly better scorer and passer however Lawal gets to the line more frequently, is less foul-prone, and is possibly the better rebounder of the two. 

Physically, both are extremely long (Lawal has a 7-foot wingspan) although Lawal enters the NBA with a slightly more rugged frame.

The point here is that in a season where BC needs to work some magic financially to get this club back on course, an option like Lawal instead of over-paying an Amir might work out best, even in the near future.  Lawal has drawn comparisons to Chris Wilcox (when he first entered the league) due to his shot-blocking, athleticism and defensive work in the post and at worst, these are all qualities the Raps could use a big injection of next year.