Denver Nuggets point guard Ty Lawson officially went down for an extended period of time last week, suffering from the same plantar fascia tear that sat down Los Angeles Lakers forward Pau Gasol for 5 1/2 weeks earlier this season. And though former reserve Andre Miller is a capable replacement, many of us wondered how the veteran would adapt as a starter for the go-go-go and go-again Nuggies. If his and Denver’s play since Lawson’s diagnosis is any evidence, things are going to be just fine for coach George Karl's team.
And the highlights, as we saw Wednesday during Denver’s 113-96 win over the Utah Jazz, should still be as plentiful. Watch:
By this guy’s eye-test, that’s a flat-footed 65-foot alley-oop to a player (Kenneth Faried, 19 points and eight rebounds in the win) who was open, but not exactly all by himself on the other side of the court. Expertly placed, Dre Miller.
The issue was never Andre Miller’s ability to approximate Lawson’s very good 2012-13 play in Ty’s absence. The worry centered around which Nugget would pick up the slack for Miller’s minutes off the bench. And though my Lawson column batted the usual unemployed veteran and D-League point guard names out there as free agent replacements, I was wrong to decline to think about the various all-around athletes already on Denver’s roster. Andre Miller played only 26 minutes last night, and 27 minutes in Lawson’s first game out. So who’s picking up the slack?
That would be Andre Iguodala, and rookie wingman Evan Fournier.
The Nuggets are going big when Miller sits, with Iguodala (six assists on Wednesday, same as Miller) often making the extra skip pass, and rookie Fournier coming off the bench to directly replace Denver’s Dre Sr., and coming out of nowhere to round out the rotation. Here’s Karl discussing Fournier’s merits from Sunday:
"I'm not afraid to play him," Karl said. "Evan's position is good playmaker as an off-guard. His position is not point guard. Now, I'm glad he's experimented there. I think he's going to get better there."
I think someday he's going to be OK to play backup point guard in the league. But to throw him into big pressure games and give him the ball and have him run the offense? There's a lot of variables there that you're throwing at a young player. I think he can hit a home run every once in a while, but can he hit a home run every day? I don't know if I would bet on that one."
He’s gone deep in his last two games, though, George.
In just 21 minutes a game, the rookie has averaged 18.5 points a contest in two wins, shooting a white-hot 72 percent from the field. This is a guy that hadn’t topped 18 minutes in a game all year heading into last Friday’s game against the Brooklyn Nets, and had managed double-figure minutes just five times this season prior to that.
With four potential practice days (an eternity, at this point in the NBA season) between his 19-point contribution against the Nets and Wednesday’s 18-point performance, you know coach Karl got to tinkerin’ with his new toy during the days “off.”
It should also be noted that, somehow, Fournier's play of late makes a local Denver columnist's piece from last June all the more embarrassing.
This shouldn’t take away from what Miller has contributed in Lawson’s absence. He’s contributed 12.5 points and 4.5 assists as a starter in two games since the Nuggets announced Ty’s tear. Just one turnover in 54 total minutes, as well. His legendary alley-oop acumen, clearly, remains on point.
It’s only a two-game sample, to be sure, and rookies are always in danger of falling off. When you beat two very capable teams like the Nets and Jazz (with the Jazz win coming in the unfriendly confines of Salt Lake City) by a combined 39 points?
That means this team, like a 65-foot alley-oop, is worth watching.