It’s been a roller coaster season thus far for the Denver Nuggets. Early struggles preceded a seven-game win streak, while an eight-game losing streak has now led into a four wins in a row.
Crucial to this latest round of success for the Nuggets is Ty Lawson. The blur of a point guard was already enjoying a very good all-around season, but during this win streak, Lawson’s displayed a newfound aggression in looking for his shot, particularly beyond the arc. In the last four games, Lawson’s attempted 19 three-pointers, and while he’s only made six of them, the increase in attempts is encouraging enough. In the past three games alone, he’s hoisted five three point attempts per game.
“I’m throwing that thing up!” Lawson exclaimed. “You give me any daylight, I’m shooting it. I got to keep defenses honest. If I keep driving every time, people will just sag back.”
One reason Lawson’s looking for his shot more is an increased comfort with Brian Shaw’s offense. Lawson had previously only played in George Karl’s system, one that emphasized Lawson’s speed and driving ability while somewhat forsaking his ability to shoot. In the early part of the season, it seemed as if Lawson still carried that mentality. Often, he’d pass up an open or semi-open three pointer in favor of driving to the rim.
Per NBA.com/stats, 37.3% of Lawson’s points in the first ten games came in the paint, while only 17.7% came from beyond the arc. In the past three games, 29% of his points have come in the paint, while 27.3% have come from three.
Further adding to Lawson’s, and indeed Denver’s overall improvement offensively is their increased pace. Denver’s personnel doesn’t fit Brian Shaw’s desired offense, and that mismatch reared its ugly head over the course of Denver’s struggles. During their losing streak, Denver only scored 94.4 points per 100 possessions, while surrendering 106.8. They also played at a glacial (at least, for Denver) pace, averaging only 99 possessions per game. The players looked confused, their offensive sets either stagnant or poorly executed. There was no semblance of rhythm nor chemistry on either end of the floor.
“One of the things that we were guilty of was, after time outs, when I would diagram a play, (but) we might be on defense first,” Shaw said. “(We’d) get a stop, rebound and have an opportunity to run, but we’d just walk the ball up the court and run the play.”
Shaw deserves credit for his flexibility — recognizing what wasn’t working and adjusting his offense to fit his roster. Denver’s now back to its running ways, and as a result, both the offense and defense are much improved. Over the past four games, the Nuggets are averaging 103 possessions per game, which would lead the league. They’re now scoring a phenomenal 117 points per 100 possessions, while relenting only 98.
“Now, we’re making more of an emphasis of running after misses and makes,” Shaw said.
Lawson’s numbers during this streak are a microcosm of Denver’s offensive explosion. During the losing streak, only 11.2% of Lawson’s points came on the break. This, mind you, from arguably the fastest point guard, if not one of the fastest players overall, in the league. That number over the past four games has jumped to nearly 22%. The increased pace has made Lawson a much more balanced scorer as well, as 30% of his points come in the paint, 26% at the line, and nearly 25% from three. Balance thus leads to versatility.
That’s not to say Lawson’s ignored his responsibilities as a point guard — just the opposite. He’s assisted on nearly 46% of the team’s field goals during the win streak, with a terrific 3.65 assist to turnover ratio. Given Lawson’s uptick in three-point attempts, defenders now have to play closer to him. This suits Lawson just fine, as he can then blow by the defender with his speed, granting him unfettered access to the lane. From there, he’s presented with a plethora of options — dumping it off to a big, kicking it out to the wing, or simply taking it to the rim himself.
The timing on Lawson’s breakout is quite fortuitous. With the recent rash of injuries to other western conference guards — Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, Jrue Holiday, Eric Bledsoe and oh my god this list is depressing — it’s very possible Lawson could find himself playing in his first All-Star game this February.
Statistical support for this article provided by NBA.com/stats