Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images North America
|2010-2011 regular season||Jameer Nelson|
If there was a player that defined the ups and downs of the Orlando Magic‘s tumultuous season, it was Jameer Nelson.
Nelson started off the year playing up to the All-Star caliber standards he set for himself in 2009, helping the Magic jump out to a 15-4 record after 19 games and coming up with signature performances along the way, like his 17-point, 14-assist pick and roll tour de force in a win against the Miami Heat on November 24 or thoroughly outplaying Derrick Rose head-to-head on December 1 in another victory, putting up 24 points (on 8-of-11 shooting), nine assists, four rebounds, and two steals while the MVP finished with 15 points and four assists. Nelson and Orlando looked to be in tip-top form until injuries, illnesses, and other maladies struck the roster in December.
Then after the Magic lost eight of nine games during that month, even with Nelson still performing particularly well by his standards, general manager Otis Smith pulled the trigger and made two blockbuster trades that significantly altered the identity of the team. Instead of Vince Carter sharing the ball-handling and playmaking duties with Nelson on the perimeter, it was Hedo Turkoglu — a familiar face. And instead of Nelson enjoying a significant amount of playing time at the point guard position, it was Gilbert Arenas ready to usurp him as the starter. Or so everyone thought.
With Turkoglu and Arenas on board, Nelson took a backseat with his role as Orlando tried to shape-shift themselves into a more potent ballclub offensively. It wasn’t until after the Magic went on a franchise-tying nine-game winning streak, only to fall back to earth after the All-Star break, that Nelson began to reassert himself on offense and go back to being aggressive despite the presence of Turkoglu and Arenas, who weren’t doing much to help the team after their honeymoon period ended.
Nelson finished the regular season as he started it. Strong.
Then the playoffs came.
If the regular season defined Nelson’s inconsistencies as a player, then the postseason merely cemented the idea. Historically, Nelson has usually been able to elevate his play a notch or two in the playoffs. But after an excellent Game 1 performance against the Atlanta Hawks, in which Nelson set a franchise playoff record with the most points scored in a quarter (20 in the third quarter), he regressed in Games 2-6 and made a minimal impact for Orlando.
It’s no secret, then, that with Nelson not playing up to his abilities, the Magic lost in the first round to the Hawks. This isn’t to pile the blame on Nelson, but he was part of the problem in that series.
Nelson has had a good tenure with Orlando but with Dwight Howard‘s future in the balance, along with the franchise at Defcon 1 awaiting the big fella’s decision, it might be time for Smith to part ways with the point guard he traded for in the 2004 NBA Draft. Make no mistake, Nelson has grown leaps and bounds the moment he was drafted from St. Joseph’s, with the apex of his career coming in the 2008-2009 season. But Nelson is nothing more than an average point guard and the numbers — according to one metric — bear that out.
|Games Played||Minutes Played||PER|
It’s a shame that it comes down to this because Nelson, when he’s doing what he needs to do, is one of the better point guards in the NBA. The problem, and this is something that has plagued Nelson for almost his entire tenure in the league, is his inconsistency. There will be those that criticize Nelson for not being a pass-first point guard or that he’s too short or that he doesn’t play defense. Thing is, Nelson isn’t Chris Paul and he doesn’t have all-world court vision. Nelson’s strength comes as a scorer, especially in pick and rolls. In the Magic’s system offensively, Nelson is precisely the type of player that is needed.
However, the lack of height and defensive acumen are valid criticisms and, along with his perpetual inconsistency, are the reasons that it’s prescribed that Orlando makes use of Nelson’s value on the trade market and improve the roster.
Can the Magic win a championship with Nelson at point guard? Absolutely.
The problem is that Nelson is one of the few players for Orlando that can be moved in a trade. At this point, given that the Magic have a dearth of talent, using Nelson to get help for Howard almost seems to be necessary.