Fans of the Xinjiang Guanghui Flying Tigers are in good hands even without Kenyon Martin around to throw down follow-up dunks and grab rebound after rebound.
Gani Lawal is coming to get the job done.
Lawal will replace Martin with Xinjiang of the Chinese Basketball Association, Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports reported on Christmas day. But instead of the news being about Martin having to wait and see where his NBA career takes him, the story should really be about Lawal getting ready to pick up where he left off with his overseas game.
Lawal, the 6-foot-9 power forward out of Georgia Tech, was waived both by the San Antonio Spurs and the Phoenix Suns in training camp and believed to be considering a return overseas to Poland, where he starred for Zastal Zielona Gor during the lockout until China came calling.
And what a three months it was.
After Lawal’s rookie season in Phoenix ended after one game when he tore his ACL in June, he wisely decided to take his game to Poland in September where he excelled on both ends of the floor. He averaged 16.4 points and 11.8 rebounds per game in 8 games Zastal and while only playing in the Polish League a short while, Lawal was named the player of the year for the 2011-2012 season by one Polish newspaper.
For Lawal, the experience did wonders for him personally and his game overall.
While some NBA players used the lockout as a basis to stay in shape as they waited out the work stoppage, Lawal’s growth was two-fold in Poland. Not only did he re-condition and rehab with his surgically repaired right knee, but he grew in his mental approach to the game as well.
Being cut both by the Suns and Spurs now helps fuel that fire as Lawal makes his way to China to replace Martin. With Zastal, Lawal’s low post game complimented perfectly former two-time NCAA champion (2006 and 2007) and Florida Gator Walter Hodge in an up-tempo offense, much like as expected with Xinjiang where former Portland Trial Blazers guard Patty Mills runs the point.
Martin, the former Denver Nuggets forward, agreed to a buyout last week but still cannot sign with an NBA team until after his Chinese team’s season (regular season ends in February, with playoffs ending in March) concludes.
Lawal certainly will have to adjust culturally to China, but the transition to the game should come easily over his success playing in Poland.
San Antonito and Phoenix’s loss, now becomes Xinjiang’s gain with Gani Lawal.