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Who Will Be Top Denver Nuggets' Crunch-Time Option in NBA Playoffs?

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Who Will Be Top Denver Nuggets' Crunch-Time Option in NBA Playoffs?
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Before the NBA playoffs reach their conclusion, we’ll be asking ourselves if Denver Nuggets point guard Ty Lawson is elite.

If the Nuggets are going to get anywhere this postseason, it will be because Lawson carried them there.

Lawson has been playing out of his mind, as Denver has rattled off win streaks of six, nine and its current high of 13 games since the New Year. He suddenly ascended to the role of the Nuggets’ primary scorer, leading the team with 16.8 points per game after averaging 20.9 over his last 21.

ESPN’s David Thorpe (Insider) recognizes the general perception that Denver has no offensive weapons of the same caliber as the departed Carmelo Anthony, but rarely did Anthony’s Nuggets make it out of the first round:

Indeed, conventional wisdom dictates the necessity for someone like that -- someone willing to take and make the tough shots even when everyone knows that player is going to -- especially in the postseason.

But the Nuggets have three things that have the potential to change that perception: They own the best transition game in basketball; they have the ability to generate shots inside at all times; and they are led by a player who finally started playing like a superstar -- point guard Ty Lawson.

Lawson now leads his team in minutes (35.0), field-goal makes (6.2) and attempts (13.6), assists (7.0), turnovers (2.6) and points (16.8) per game. He’s second in free-throw attempts (4.3), makes (3.2), threes (1.2) and steals (1.5).

His prolonged surge is the result of consistently improving scoring efficiency in 2012-13. Until he strained his Achilles’ tendon, the Nuggets’ franchise point guard was slumping through the season as Denver became better acquainted with Andre Iguodala.

Accurate prior to games played on Mar. 19. FG%, 3FG% stats pulled from ESPN.com; AFG% calculated by author.

In 28 contests prior to his injury, Lawson put up 13.9 points, 7.0 assists, 1.7 steals and 2.8 turnovers a night on 41.4-percent field-goal and 31.6-percent three-point shooting. In his 40 appearances since, he averaged 19.0 points, 6.9 rebounds, 1.3 steals and 2.5 turnovers per game on 48.7-percent field-goal and 40.1-percent three-point conversion rates.

Lawson’s injury obviously wasn’t the catalyst behind his improved shooting.

He’s finally become more assertive on the offensive end of the floor.

Before Christmas, Lawson took 12.9 shots per game, including 2.8 from beyond the arc. Since, he’s taking 14.1 shots and 3.6 threes. In turn, his efficiency has improved.

Excluding the Nuggets’ single game in October, Ty’s field-goal percentage and adjusted field-goal percentage have improved with each passing month of the 2012-13 season. In November, he shot 40.3 percent from the field and 23.3 percent from deep. In March, he’s scorching the nets at a 51.9-percent field-goal clip; 41.9 percent of his threes are getting knocked down.

Head coach George Karl told the Denver Post in December that “defining leadership on this team is probably going to be a whole year process.” He’s been grooming Ty to lead Denver for quite a while, which includes putting the point guard in position to make big plays late in ball games.

Against the Chicago Bulls on Mar. 18, Lawson was afforded the opportunity to knock down a game-winner as regulation expired. With the score tied at 105, he broke Nate Robinson down with a dribble and step-back move, but fell short when the ultra-athletic Bulls guard was able to recover and close out his mid-range jumper.

Every game-winner isn’t going to go Lawson’s way—Michael Jordan wasn’t perfect in crunch time—but Denver trusted Lawson with the outcome of its game that night.

It was good practice for similar postseason situations: The score was tied, so Denver wouldn’t necessarily have lost if Lawson missed. However, the Nuggets were on a double-digit winning streak and on their lone trip to Chicago this season.

As there is with essentially every NBA game, there was a degree of pressure with taking the final shot. Per Rotowire.com, Ty told the Nuggets’ broadcasting team that he hadn’t felt well heading into the game.

Karl still entrusted his sick—and probably very tired—guard to put his team over the top, without having to cope with the potentially negative consequences. Denver got to walk away with an overtime win, despite Lawson’s miss.

 

For more Denver Nuggets analysis, follow Jamal on Twitter

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