Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images
With their win over the Suns on Sunday night, the Magic secured a 3-2 record over the course of their five-game West Coast road trip, which should be cause for celebration in and of itself.
More significant than a few tough road wins, however, has been the sense that Jacque Vaughn and the Magic are beginning to realize what they have in Andrew Nicholson — a versatile scoring big man that can be used as a building block for the future.
Nicholson had easily the best game of his rookie season against the Suns, posting career-highs in virtually every statistical category in just 25 minutes and scoring in a remarkably efficient manner — 9-for-11 from the field.
Nicholson’s performance wasn’t simply a rookie having a good night against a bad team (and the Suns are a very, very bad team). It was the culmination of several weeks of honing an offensive game that was already pretty polished at St. Bonaventure, but has only grown more refined since he debuted for the Magic.
Not a lot about Nicholson’s game is flashy. His scoring is more smooth than explosive, and at his best, as he was against Phoenix, he excels by finding ways to shake free of defenders and put himself in the spots he likes.
So where is his offense coming from so far?
In the limited minutes that will surely increase after Sunday, Nicholson has been devastating in the paint. He can finish ably around the rim on dunks and tip-ins, but he’s also shown a diverse set of moves in the low post. He’s averaging 1.14 points per possession on post-ups and so far has shown a highly effective hook shot, per Synergy.
Nicholson loves the long two from the left side of the floor — it’s easily his most successful shot as a shooter from outside the paint. However, he’s shown the ability to score from almost anywhere inside the three-point line if he gets open. He scores very efficiently out of the pick-and-roll as well, averaging 1.21 points per possession.
Nicholson is still playing a mere 14 minutes per game, which is to be expected with Glen Davis putting up lofty (albeit inefficient) scoring numbers. As long as the Magic continue to overachieve like this, it seems likely that Vaughn will keep relying on Big Baby to anchor the offense (or at least keep playing him to showcase him for a possible trade). However, it’s safe to say that Nicholson has proven enough in his limited minutes thus far this season to warrant a longer look as the season wears on.
Nicholson may not ever be a star or a first option on offense, but the Magic don’t need him to be. As Nate Drexler pointed out last week, the Magic as presently constructed don’t have a Kyrie Irving/Anthony Davis-type “franchise player.” This season is all about developing their young talent so that it will be ready to be good, high-level complimentary players whenever the Magic do land that star in a future draft, be it Shabazz Muhammad or Andrew Wiggins or whoever else.
And as a rookie, Nicholson is well ahead of schedule in developing into just that type of versatile scoring big man.