Ty Lawson's Injury Putting Denver Nuggets' Depth to Huge Test

Jesse DorseyFeatured ColumnistApril 4, 2013

DENVER, CO - MARCH 07:  Ty Lawson #3 of the Denver Nuggets brings the ball up court against the Los Angeles Clippers at the Pepsi Center on March 7, 2013 in Denver, Colorado. The Nuggets defeated the Clippers 107-92. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

The Denver Nuggets showed that they could be the most dangerous non-elite team in the NBA, and then Ty Lawson went down with a torn plantar fascia in his right foot. Now their depth is really being tested.

It's generally hard to tell whether or not this type of injury would keep a player out for an extended period of time, as a lot of importance is placed on how much pain a player can play through. He's listed as day-to-day, but it could be weeks or even longer.

#Nuggets PG @tylawson3 has a plantar fascia tear in his right heel. No surgery required. Out tonight vs Brooklyn. Status day-to-day.

— Denver Nuggets (@denvernuggets) March 29, 2013

Lawson is the fast-paced point guard of one of the fastest-paced, most effective offenses in the NBA. He knows how to run their point, push the tempo, and turn them into the over-driven team that makes them incredibly dangerous.

He's missed a few games throughout the season, and the Nuggets have been a visibly different team with Andre Miller as the primary point guard.

With Lawson as the starting point guard, Denver has averaged just over 101 points per game compared to the season average of nearly 106 points (per Basketball-Reference.com).

Miller is a magnificent change-of-pace guard for the Nuggets, bringing in a more methodical, isolation-heavy game that highlights the strengths of the individual over the strengths of the group.

With Miller running the show, the fast pace tends to fade (unless the Nuggets end up on a break), while Miller shows off his incredible old-man isolation game, Andre Iguodala goes into physical specimen mode and Danilo Gallinari does his best to shake a defender and get an open jumper.

That style of offense for the Nuggets is definitely valuable, but it is much more valuable when contrasted with the run-and-gun Lawson-led offense.

What really becomes interesting is when the Nuggets have to get down past the second guard in their rotation.

Generally, Denver is able to run a three-man guard rotation of Lawson, Miller and Iguodala, switching them in and out generously and creating different lineups periodically.

George Karl is incredibly into experimenting with lineups, throwing huge or tiny lineups out against various opponents, but he doesn't like to expand to a lineup without either Lawson or Miller, at least as far as his top 20 lineups go (per Basketball-Reference.com).

What that means is that the Nuggets suddenly become reliant upon lineups that either involve no point guard (Miller playing for more than 30 minutes can get exhausting) or an Evan Fournier-led offense.

In their win over the Utah Jazz, Denver used Fournier for a career-high 21 minutes, a huge jump over his eight-minute average.

Looking back at their loss to the New Orleans Hornets, Denver tried to put Miller on the floor for 39 minutes as he put together a lackluster performance and the Nuggets scored just 86 points.

Denver went to the Andre Miller well in each of the prior two games without Lawson, and they ended with a better result than the loss to the Hornets. It shows that he's an inconsistent player if he's relied upon to be a starter for a huge portion of the game.

It could be good for Lawson to take a bit of time off for the next week or so, allowing the Nuggets to explore other options in case things go sour with his foot in the playoffs.

With Lawson, Denver becomes the dark-horse candidate to roil their way to the Western Conference Finals. Without him, they lose a dynamic that no other team in the NBA can consistently match at such a high level.