For Jameer Nelson, All Eyes on Him | Magic Basketball

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Sep 15

For Jameer Nelson, All Eyes on Him

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Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

If there’s one player for the Orlando Magic that could have a major impact on the season this year, aside from Dwight Howard, it’s fellow captain Jameer Nelson.

In the 2010 NBA Playoffs, there was no question that Nelson was the second-best player for the Magic. To some, that was a surprise.

Entering the first round against the Charlotte Bobcats, there were a few writers that thought Nelson’s matchup with Raymond Felton would be nothing more than a toss-up. To be honest? It’s hard to blame those people when comparing the regular season numbers of Nelson and Felton. Yet four games later, nearly everyone was forced to pick up Felton’s remains after Nelson torched him.

It was more of the same against Mike Bibby in Orlando’s series against the Atlanta Hawks. At this stage in his career, Bibby is known as a defensive sieve and Nelson made sure to remind those that forgot. If it wasn’t for the fact that nearly every player for the Magic played well, Nelson could have done the same damage to Bibby as he did to Felton in the previous matchup.

As for Rajon Rondo, many suggested that he dominated against Nelson for the Boston Celtics but that wasn’t the case. Did Rondo best Nelson in the series? In some aspects, yes, but ‘dominated’ seems too strong of a word since Rondo could do little to stop Nelson on his warpath in Games 4 and 5. But that’s neither here nor there. As they say, history is the propaganda of the victors.

At the very least, Nelson proved that he could play at an All-Star caliber level with consistency in the postseason for Orlando, as well as hold his own against — arguably — the best defensive point guard in the NBA. The cruel irony is that Nelson’s performance in the playoffs further twisted the knife in the hearts of Magic fans, many of which are convinced he could have been the difference maker in the 2009 NBA Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers if he was healthy.

It’s another ‘what if’ scenario that could be explored in the future at some point.

All in all, this is an important year for Nelson because he’s going to have to play like an All-Star if the Magic want to overtake the Celtics and the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference.

That much is clear.

Can Nelson play at that level this year?

Yes.

Will he?

To be determined.

The key is that Nelson has to be healthy, or this entire conversation is a moot point.

GP PER TS% eFG% AST% TOV% USG% ORtg
2009 regular season 42 20.6 .612 .580 32.1 12.6 23.2 121
2010 playoffs 10 20.7 .612 .566 28.7 13.9 26.1 119

This is what Nelson can do when healthy.


Nelson had an inconsistent season last year, mainly due to the fact he was dealing with a knee injury that slowed him down a bit. It wasn’t until after the All-Star break, in which Nelson was able to get healthy and closer to 100 percent, that Nelson played more like the All-Star that he was in 2009. The explosiveness and aggressiveness, two keys to Nelson’s game offensively, returned and he became more comfortable with Vince Carter in the backcourt.

It’s been brought up before, but there’s no reason why Nelson can’t fully return to his All-Star form this season. Given his vital importance to Orlando’s success, as well as taking into account his gifted abilities on offense, Nelson deserves to be the second option after Howard but that’s up to head coach Stan Van Gundy.

Nelson’s ability to run the 1/5 pick and roll with Howard makes him a dangerous player, especially when he’s looking for his shot (something he doesn’t do enough sometimes). That makes it difficult for defenders because when they’re forced to guess where to commit themselves on the court, either against Nelson or Howard, one or both of them could have a field day on offense.

Nelson is not a prototypical point guard and he catches a lot of flack for that, even when he’s playing well, but fans need to realize that he is the perfect point guard for the Magic because of his ability to score the basketball — hence why he shoots a lot like a shooting guard. In Orlando’s 4-out/1-in scheme, the lead guard needs to be a threat offensively. A weapon that can be used.

Nelson can distribute the ball to his teammates if need be, but his primary task should be to put up points on the scoreboard. And usually it is. This has been stated many times but when Nelson goes, so go the Magic. Nelson, and everyone around him, is at his best when he is aggressive and looking to attack. When Nelson is doing that consistently, it makes Orlando a tough team to beat.

It’s no coincidence, despite Rashard Lewis‘ struggles and Carter’s disappearances, that the Magic were able to defeat the Celtics in Games 4 and 5. Nelson’s aggressive ways on offense had a large part to do with those wins.

If Orlando wants to entertain ideas of returning to the Finals, Nelson needs to be the second-best player on the team. Lewis could be that guy, but Nelson is inherently more important to the Magic because the ball is always in his hands. Lewis can create shots for himself but not to the degree that Nelson can, thus his potential impact is lessened. As for Carter, he’s 33 and not the same player he once was. That doesn’t mean Carter isn’t talented because he is, though it would be a mistake to rely on him a ton. It has nothing to do with Carter’s exploits in the postseason or lack thereof. It’s just that Nelson, aside from Howard, dictates a lot of Orlando’s success and failure.

Nelson has a tattoo on his back that says ‘All Eyes on Me.’

It seems appropriate enough, don’t you think?

12 comments
Eddy Rivera
Eddy Rivera

@Jrod

I don't think the Conference Finals demonstrated that at all.

In fact, the series against the Celtics showed that if either Carter or Lewis were able to contribute more for the Magic, they would have advanced to the Finals. Nelson did everything he could offensively, but sometimes foul trouble did not allow him to be as aggressive as he could have been (ex: Game 6). Nelson's "status" as the No. 2 option on offense is irrelevant, to be honest. Nelson just needs to produce, as does Carter and Lewis when the time comes.

Jrod
Jrod

@Eddy Rivera

You're right that we wouldn't be having this conversation if the Magic beat the Celtics because, in that case, Jameer presumably would have succeeded in carrying the offensive load as the primary perimeter option after that role was vacated by VC's choke job and Rashard's disappearing act at the hands of Garnett. But despite how well he played, I think the ECF demonstrated Jameer is not capable of carrying a team offensively down the stretch, deep in the playoffs, which is what Dwight would need from a true #2. The reason Jameer cannot fill that role by himself is, as a scoring pg, he doesn't create well enough for others and doesn't score at a prolific enough rate to be the go to guy down the stretch. He is an excellent pg - perhaps top 10 - and a great fit for the Magic. But if he is plugged in to the same role as he was against the Celtics - that is, the guy who has to get the team a bucket each possession down the stretch - it won't work. He is not that guy, despite all his considerable strengths.

The Magic, similar to some of the championship Spurs teams, are constructed with three #3 guys following one truly dominant superstar. If two of the other guys go missing, Jameer isn't going to make up that difference by morphing into a legit #2. He is not that caliber of player.

Eddy Rivera
Eddy Rivera

@Billy (slickw143)

I don't disagree with that premise. That's a valid point.

@Jrod

Didn't know that was one of my favorite phrases. Nevertheless, you haven't given any legitimate reasons why Nelson shouldn't be a No. 2 option other than basing his "failure" on the failures of Carter and Lewis in the Conference Finals. If the Magic beat the Celtics in the series, we probably wouldn't be having this discussion right now. Even then, you're speaking in absolutes.

The fact of the matter is that Nelson was the second-best player in the playoffs for Orlando, but the team failed because certain players didn't play well. End of story. That has nothing to do with Nelson.

Billy (slickw143)
Billy (slickw143)

@Jrod
That's not true because the Magic almost won a championship with someone not as good as Jameer at his peak as the #2.

Jrod
Jrod

@Eddy Rivera

To use one of your favorite phrases, Jameer is not a #2 option on a championship team because he is not. The Magic cannot win a championship with Jameer as the #2. As you also like to say, it's that simple, really.

Billy (slickw143)
Billy (slickw143)

@Eddy Rivera
As much as I love Jameer, I think it has some base in reality, simply because of the consistency/injury-prone questions. People are going to continue to doubt Jameer until he puts together an entire year like 2009 half-season or the 2010 playoffs.

Eddy Rivera
Eddy Rivera

@Jrod

Yet that's exactly what Nelson was in the playoffs last year, and that's what he would have been had he stayed healthy in 2009 when the Magic made it to the Finals. I don't agree with that statement, whatsoever.

It's a baseless comment.

Jrod
Jrod

Nelson is not a championship caliber #2 option. Never has been, never will be. He would be great as a number #3 guy, but is forced to be a #2 due to Carter's and Lewis' inability to fill that role, and the lack of flexibility in the roster Otis had to work with. It makes things very difficult on Dwight to have to win despite not having a true #2.

Mikeyho
Mikeyho

Yep. He's played that role on occasion since day 1 in Orlando. I remember in Brain Hill's system he seemed the only one who looked natural out there. That's why he was my favorite player because if he shot the ball, we won. Before his all-star year I believe he had an uninjured, sub-par season. I've had trouble fully believing in him since that year but, like stated by Eddy, he can, but it doesn't mean he will.

I sometimes thought Jameer's aggressive driving makes his body ready for injuries and it seems maybe that he knows that. Besides Dwight, no one takes as hard of a beating as Jameer either.

Manny San Miguel
Manny San Miguel

Second that. It will be tough on him, but he MUST regain his 2008 form. Neither Lewis nor Carter will be as dependable, or essential as Jameer. Lets hope that our defense is back in top form; only THEN can we talk about going back to the NBA Finals.

GO MAGIC!

Tim
Tim

I think the tide turned on the Magic in Game 6 when Jameer picked up those two early fouls. Not only were the Magic torched while he sat out, when he came back in it seemed to me like he didn't have the same aggressiveness because he was concerned about picking up more fouls.

Adam Greene
Adam Greene

Agreed, Eddy. All eyes on Jameer. Watching Jameer's performance in games 4 and 5 of the ECF, against one of the best defenses any team could face, is a key to this Magic team maintaining their dominance of the Southeastern Division. It comes down to how Jameer attacks off the high pick-and-roll. In games 1-3, and game 6, he came off the pick, stopped and looked to pass without pressing the paint. Perhaps it was a conscious effort on his part to get Rashard some touches, seeing as how he would often pass to Rashard when he stopped dribbling, but the offense wasn't working as well. You pointed out how dominant Jameer was in the previous series against ATL and CHA and it was due to his willingness to attack his defenders in those high pick-and-roll situations. Lets bombard Jameer with highlights from those games until he "gets it".