Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
A few weeks ago I read a headline that all but sent me running through my neighborhood chanting, “they’re back!” The Strokes were releasing a new single, the first music from them since 2005. I first heard about them in 2002 while I was at prom and a buddy popped in their debut record “Is This It.” From there I was hooked, and spent the better half of the next few years selling my soul to Julian Casablancas, trying to argue they were one of the best five bands of all time.
After that monumental album, The Strokes dropped a pair of marginal records that left a bittersweet taste in the mouths of fans and critics. Yes, it was decent music, and yes there were good moments, but it was not a complete package. It wasn’t that perfect record that came out of nowhere in 2001.
I bet Stan Van Gundy has fond memories of the Jameer Nelson of 2009. Granted, Nelson only played 42 games that season, but his output was the best in his career. It’s been hard for Magic fans to figure out why he can’t replicate the magic of those 42 games for more than a game or two at a time.
What is clear, though, is that SVG not only remembers, but also demands the type of play he thinks Nelson is capable of. That kind of play is what we saw last week at Sacramento and Golden State. Nelson posted 24 and 26 points in those games. And a few weeks back he dropped 26 against New York. But there are too many marginal “games between the games” where Jameer underperforms, like in Portland a week ago where he had two points in 21 minutes and shot 14 percent from the field. That was not the case in 2009.
At first glance there does not seem to be anything catastrophically wrong with his game. As we’ve seen in flashes this year, he’s still capable of scoring 25 points in a game, dishing 10 assists, and facilitating the offense the way a good point guard should. Nevertheless, his season averages aren’t nearly that lofty – 13 points and 6 assists, numbers that make you sort of shrug, but not complain.
But did you know that in 2009 his player efficiency rating was 20.6? To give you an indicator, that would place him right between Tony Parker and Kevin Garnett on the current PER list, and make him a top 30 player on Hollinger’s chart. This year he is barely above the league average at 15.5, putting him between Wilson Chandler and Nazr Mohammed. Different neighborhood.
The biggest discrepancies for Nelson between this season and 2009 is his True Shooting percentage and his effective field goal percentage. His involvement in the offense isn’t meaningless – if you watch the Magic, you see him get shots. So instead of making blanket statements about Nelson not being involved in the offense enough, I am more apt to attribute the lower advanced percentages to the quality of looks that he is getting. In other words, lower field goal efficiency at this level means contested shots, forced shots, and rushed shots. At times the Magic offense is stagnant, which effects more players than just Nelson, but as the creator of much of the offense he probably suffers from the lack of ball and player movement more than say, Brandon Bass or Turk. Plus, as the floor general, he bears a greater share of the responsibility when the offense goes flat.
The cry for consistency, in my mind, can only be answered by a faster paced, more deliberate offense that frees up more looks, more quality looks, and ultimately better efficiency on the offensive end. Nelson could be better, yes. He has proven to be a more efficient player in the past, and the only way to replicate his 2009 effort is going to be for Orlando to get back to doing what the Magic do best – move the ball and execute.
So there is a sense at which Stan Van Gundy has good reason to desire more out of Nelson, but what he is really doing is calling for more pop out of his offense. If he gets that, then he’ll get Jameer back, and probably a few other players too (Turk, Gilbert, and Redick).
The Strokes had an interview recently where they talked about the importance of working together to create this new record, and ended up delivering a gem in their new single. And all at once fans, critics, and indie-punk adolescents got a taste of what they had been missing for years since The Strokes’ debut album.
Nelson’s numbers may not be as good as they could be, or as good as SVG wants them to be, but they’re up compared to his career averages. Still, just like when an infectious album gets in your head and all you want is more good tunes from your favorite band, Stan Van Gundy has it ingrained in his mind just how valuable Nelson can be to this team.
I can’t get into Jameer’s head, but I think as long as he considers it “good numbers” when he and the team play well together, the Magic will play just as well as SVG wants. I also think Nelson will start to play more like that half-season of glory in 2009. Yeah, the Magic have a lot of “ifs” and it’s frustrating. But, working together is important, and whatever mental adjustments Van Gundy has to convince Nelson to make, if he starts playing like a floor general again and takes better care of the basketball, the Magic will start releasing “gems” on the whole Eastern Conference.
You know, like The Strokes.