An early entry candidate for the 2009 NBA Draft, Gani Lawal opted to return to school after going through the draft process and not receiving the first round guarantee he was looking for. Though some were impressed by his potential, others questioned his lack of polish something that was only magnified at the NBA combine and in the heavily attended group workouts. Though he was well-positioned last summer with a number of major prospects opting to stay in school, he decided to hone his skills back at Georgia Tech alongside incoming freshman Derrick Favors.
While Lawal's minutes and touches have decreased marginally next to the lottery-bound Favors, he's shown development in some areas and will still have an opportunity to hear his name called in the first round this summer.
Sporting an excellent physical profile highlighted by a 7'0 wingspan, Lawal has always been lauded for his athleticism and tremendous work ethic. While those two attributes have afforded him quite a bit of success on the NCAA level, Lawal's post footwork, jump shooting, and passing lagged behind his ability to impose his will on lesser athletes in the paint.
This season, Lawal has shown marked improvement to some of those weaknesses. His post footwork looks substantially better for example, being far more assertive these days. He's still not adept at making counter moves on the block and loses control when he tries to do something overly complicated, but his ability to create space for his turnaround jumper has improved considerably. His turnaround jumper over his left shoulder has been particularly impressive, as he's shown the touch to use the glass effectively and creates separation seamlessly with his strength and leaping ability.
While Lawal is definitely showing signs of improvement in the post as evidence by the improvement in his field goal percentage from 46.7% to 54.9% in back to the basket situations according to the data we have at our disposal, he still has plenty of room for improvement. He finishes with his left hand occasionally, but he doesn't appear entirely comfortable on that side of the rim when he can't dunk the ball.
Away from the block, Lawal remains limited. He rarely attempts a jump-shot, taking less than one per game according to our data. He has improved from the foul line, upping his percentages more than 10% from last season. Continuing to improve his range will be a key for him as he moves forward in his career.
Defensively, Lawal appears to have improved, though he doesn't always sustain his quality defensive play. He still has some issues closing out shooters too aggressively, but displays a better stance and moves better when not defending the ball. While he sometimes over-commits to helping his teammates, leaving his man open on the perimeter, and will have an occasional lapse of judgment, he appears to have added a degree of discipline to the high energy play that makes him an extremely productive rebounder, even playing next to a jumping jack in Derrick Favors. If he can learn to stay home when closing out shooters and be a bit more decisive off the ball, he could really help his draft stock.
Watching Lawal on film, it is clear that he's made some strides, though they are not overwhelmingly obvious in his numbers. In the short-term, it will be important for Lawal to show well against the high-level competition he'll face in ACC play and hone his defensive ability. His role in the NBA may be limited to doing some dirty work off the bench initially, but if he can continue to add strength and improve his jumper, he could fit into niche similar to the one that Leon Powe and Brandon Bass have played for their respective teams.