A.J. Lawson was the standout surprise of the Dallas Mavericks Summer League team. With all eyes focused on second-round draft pick Jaden Hardy coming into the summer tournament, Lawson not so quietly put together game-after-game of solid—at times eye-popping—play.
For Lawson, though, his on-court performance comes as no surprise. It is the result of all the hard work he put into developing his game over the years. That is what allowed him to seize the opportunity the Mavericks gave in Las Vegas. He left everything on the floor in the hopes of landing a professional contract.
“The goal for me is to be better than I was last year,” Lawson told me. “Be one percent better each day. That’s what I always focus on, being a better me. The goal for me is to get a deal with an NBA team. That’s always been a dream of mine since I was a kid. I always wanted to be an NBA player.”
In Dallas’ opening matchup against the Chicago Bulls, Lawson certainly showed that he has the skill set to compete at the next level. He poured in 28 points on 10-16 shooting, including 6-11 from deep. He also grabbed five rebounds and had an assist. It was quite a debut.
“I think, just like anybody, if you get a little repetition at the NBA level or even the G League level, the game slows down for you,” Mavericks coach Greg St. Jean said of Lawson after his first game. “I saw him with a nice level of patience tonight. He wasn’t hunting shots; they just came in the rhythm of what was going on. He’s going to have a great week for us, and he is going to have a bright future.”
He followed up his debut performance with another gem. Against the Utah Jazz, he scored 15 points on 6-11 shooting. He also notched his first-ever double-double in Summer League, pulling down 12 rebounds. Game after game, Lawson played calm and collected basketball, showing a high level of comfort on the floor.
He finished his five-game run with the Mavericks in Las Vegas averaging 15.6 points on 51.9 percent shooting overall and 50 percent on his three-point attempts. He also averaged six rebounds and 1.4 assists. His 15.6 points per game was the best mark on the team.
Lawson’s Summer League averages either match or surpass his numbers in the G League last season. He averaged 11.8 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 1.6 assists with the College Park Skyhawks. Lawson credits his improvement from the G League to now with the time he’s spent working on his game since the season ended.
“Especially this summer, I worked a lot on changing speed, changing pace,” Lawson says. “I’m just in the lab, in the gym with my trainer and my coaches trying to get better working on that, playing with tempo. I feel like I’m getting better and I’m doing just that.
“For my game itself, I’m just a big guard. I can play 1-2-3, sometimes even 4. I can defend 1 through 4 for sure. That’s just me. I’m a versatile player. I feel like it’s always been that way my whole life since high school when I had my growth spurt.”
It’s not just Lawson and fans who are taking notice of his game. The Mavericks coaching staff repeatedly praised his effort level both in games and during practice. In the brief time that he was with the team, Lawson made an impact with his play and his presence.
“He’s just been solid and consistent,” Mavericks coach George Galanopoulos told reporters after playing the Jazz. “He plays so hard, but he’s under control, which is hard to find. On top of the fact that he’s such a talented kid and he’s a hard worker, he’s a lot of fun to have around. He’s got a good energy about him, and you just enjoy being around him.”
Lawson began his basketball journey at an early age. Growing up in Canada, he was introduced to the game around the time he was four years old. It didn’t take long for him to embrace it, thanks to the encouragement of his dad. Lawson says that his dad was his biggest supporter and instilled the love of the game in him.
“He coached me in elementary school,” Lawson says. “He’s always been my biggest critic, my biggest motivator, my biggest fan. He’s just my dad. My dad always loved the game, and I love the game too. He’s the one that really put me on [to basketball]—both my parents, but especially my dad because he was my coach.”
From those early days playing for his dad, he has taken a long road to get where he is today. He played AAU in Canada, spent three collegiate seasons at South Carolina under head coach Frank Martin, went undrafted, appeared in the California and Las Vegas Summer Leagues in 2021, played in the minor leagues in Canada, and spent a season in the G League. Through it all, Lawson has not stopped being a student of the game.
That is something that remained true with Dallas. Lawson joined the Mavericks free agent camp in June, and soon after that he got the invite to play for the Summer League team. Much like his teammate Jaden Hardy, Lawson joined the team eager to learn. He found a coaching staff not only willing to teach but also build camaraderie.
“It just felt like a family-oriented team,” Lawson said. “They care for one another. They always give positive feedback when I mess up in a drill or in a game. I always have at least someone talking to me, coaching me through it. I love that. I’m a student of the game. I always want to learn. So, I always take criticism the right way. The coaches are here to help, and I love that.”
A lot of what he worked on during Summer League was finding new elements to add to his game and areas where he could improve. Given his size and length, he knew that he could have an impact on defense. Defense is a point of pride for Lawson and something that he focused on with the coaching staff.
“Defensively, learning the defensive scheme so I can master them when I’m on the court I can be in the right spot, so I can help my team,” Lawson says. “If it’s a steal, a block, or a rebound, just be in the right spot. There’s a lot of detail in the way they play, and from day one they told us what it is. I’ve been learning so much.”
In the Mavericks final game in Las Vegas against the Los Angeles Lakers, Lawson again paced the team on both sides of the ball. He led Dallas in scoring with 19 points, making five of his nine shots, including three of his five attempts from deep. He also connected on all six of his trips to the free throw line. He added five rebounds, two assists, a steal, and a block.
Dallas might have gone winless in its five games but winning isn’t everything in the desert. The goal of Summer League is to evaluate talent. What A.J. Lawson showed was a degree of consistency that is often absent during the Las Vegas tournament. He does not know what the future holds for him, but he knows it is the hard work he put in that allowed him to play at this level. That work ethic could be enough to land him a coveted NBA contact.
“Right now, I just feel like I’m trying to get a deal,” Lawson says. “Honestly, from there, I can’t even really say too much because I really don’t know. Things could change in a day, an hour, a week. So, from there, just give back to God and whatever the outcome is to be thankful.”