We are over a quarter of the way through the 2011-12 NBA campaign and while the Denver Nuggets are 14-7 and still in second place in the Western Conference, some disturbing trends are starting to take place. One being that George Karl is relying heavily on a 35 year-old point guard who has a very uncertain future in the Mile High City …

Welcome to February 1st, 2012.

In December Andre Miller averaged 30.8 minutes per game.

In January Miller averaged 31 minutes per game.

Miller is 35 years-old now and will be 36 years-old on March 19th.

While Miller is a freak of nature as far as durability and not wearing down goes, he is still living on NBA borrowed time with his advancing age. Miller again showed last season (2010-11) that he isn't a guy who can wear down through a grueling 82 game season (as he's proved his entire career). He averaged from his low of 29.1 minutes per month in April 2010 up to 36.8 minutes in February of 2010. His points per game never dipped dramatically (not counting a short seven game April) and he averaged 32.2 minutes per game in the playoffs (six games) to go along with 14.8 points and 5.5 assists. But sometime in the not so far off future, the old guard is going to have to hang them up.

Miller is a wonderful player, a gifted one, and the point guard you want on your team if you are trying to win a ring in the next season or two. The Nuggets are very spoiled to have Miller on their team this season, as a backup. But Miller is still such a fine player that his production, while helping the team win now, might very well be hurting the very player he was brought in to help. Ty Lawson. And you can even make the case that Miller’s heavy minutes are hurting Arron Afflalo and Rudy Fernandez, as well.

From reader KarlFanHenry in last night's recap:

…and then tell us how on earth Lawson and the young guns can step up with the bizarre line-ups Karl is tossing out onto the floor like f****** garbage?! Ty Lawson needs the keys to the damned car! Playing him with Miller so much of the time may be working from a stats POV, but it’s far from an effective way to develop Lawson’s game. I’d much rather lose with more traditional rotations than see this CRAP one more game! Lawson needs to be out there more PERIOD—and out there more without Miller taking over the leadership duties. Player development has to be job one right now.

And how could Gallo step up with his ass over there glued to the bench?! No, he hadn’t been effective in this game, but heretofore he’s been given the benefit of the doubt no matter what, which is 100% the CORRECT CALL. What the hell happened tonight?!

And from reader rhaustin in last night's recap:

Walking the ball up the court, a turnover every other minute and taking no account of the youth/athleticism/energy of your opponent at crunch time is a recipe for failure. Unless Ty could not run, he should have been bringing the ball up when the tide turned (if not before), Gallo clearly was needed for rebounding and defense in overtime (if not before) and putting all your marbles on Miller/Harrington after they had played 30+ minutes each is just plain dumb. This is the second straight game given away by stubborn reliance on the older guys who probably won’t even be here next season.
If we don’t see primary reliance on Ty, Gallo and our players for the future against the Clippers Thursday, we will know Karl is in a dangerous brain lock!

The question being asked, Can the Nuggets win the whole thing this season or should the Nuggets be looking to the future over the next three to four seasons?

While I think the Nuggets have a legitimate shot to compete in the playoffs this season, I'm becoming more worried about what is going to happen after this season. Miller is in the last year of his contract and may get an opportunity to start some place else next season. The Nuggets have their point guard of the future on the team now in Lawson and he was finally supposed to have the "keys to the car" as KarlFanHenry pointed about above.

Lawson, who is averaging 34.2 minutes per game this season, once again has the training wheels handicapping him. When Miller is on the floor, Lawson is deferring to him (like he said he would) and taking himself almost totally out of the offense by standing in the corner. So his 34.2 mpg are a little deceiving from an effectiveness standpoint.

Yes, Lawson and Miller have had their success on the floor this season as well. Big men can find them on quick outlets and the playmakers have had some nice fast-breaks this season. But Lawson doesn't need training wheels and the Nuggets need to figure out if he can handle the team and handle the pressure late in games.

How far would you go to see if Lawson can truly be the Nuggets point guard of the future? Would limiting Miller's minutes from around 30 mpg to 20 mpg be the answer? Should the Nuggets go on the extreme and trade Miller to truly give Lawson his own team?

The challenge of the post-trade Nuggets was and is to see if Denver can develop a true team. Some have argued for an entire rebuild of the Nuggets from letting Nene go to not extending players during this season. Others, like me, have thought that mixing in a few right pieces with the players in tow, could result in the Nuggets competing for a title sooner.

The Nuggets have a couple nice veterans in Miller and Al Harrington that have stepped up for the team this season, but they play the same positions as key young players on this team. In giving Miller and Harrington big minutes, Karl is tasked with finding the right ways to continue developing Lawson, Afflalo, Fernandez, Danilo Gallinari, Timofey Mozgov, Kosta Koufos, and Kenneth Faried.

I would argue that the Nuggets young players are not being developed to the best of their ability. Lawson is forced to split time and defer to Miller when they are on the floor together. Afflalo and Fernandez are often left on the bench in favor of Miller. Mozgov and Koufos are battling for playing time with Harrington, Gallo, and Nene. And Faried has been left to play the waiting game when he's not being thrown garbage time minutes.

The Nuggets are faced with a weird dilemma. The team is too good to develop the young players in the way that other teams are able to. In Sacramento rookie Jimmer Fredette is seeing 23.2 mpg, New York’s rookie Iman Shumpert is averaging 30.4 mpg and 10.9 points, Memphis’ Mike Conley is the same age as Lawson and they average the same minutes per game but Conley is the unquestioned point guard on the Grizzlies, and second round pick Chandler Parsons is seeing 24.3 mpg for the 12-9 Rockets (8th Place).

I don't think the Nuggets need to go on the extreme and trade Miller, but I do think the Nuggets need to think more about what they are doing to the young guys on the team and figure out a way to develop them in a better fashion, even if it means losing a few games along the way.

Lawson needs to be running this team, Afflalo and Fernandez need to be occupying the bulk of the 48 available minutes at shooting guard, and Miller needs to become more of a backup and not "the man" for the Nuggets.

Nate_Timmons on Twitter: https://twitter.com/#!/Nate_Timmons
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