Andrew Nicholson, the Magic’s identity, and tanking | Magic Basketball

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Jan 11

Andrew Nicholson, the Magic’s identity, and tanking

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Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

If you’re a Magic fan and don’t find yourself a little fatigued by the incessant jerking between excitement, pessimism, disappointment, approval, and ambivalence toward this team, then maybe you’re not paying attention.

I’m going to talk about Andrew Nicholson, but first some context.

At the outset of the season, fans were pessimistic, if not even a little lachrymose, about the real possibility that the Orlando Magic could be a 15-win team. It was ugly, but there was not much to do about it more than offering up some sad tweets and slowly morphing into a passive and indifferent fanbase. To be clear, this was a bad team and the average Magic fan knew it, but was at least self-aware enough to not really give a flying frisbee.

So what was next? Well, fans all thought about the upside of this whole terrible team situation. Tanking! Now that’s an idea. Dwight, SVG, Ryan Anderson, Jason Richardson. All gone. Great. Let’s go 15-67 and grab the top overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft.

But then the young guns had to go and step up their game, learn how to play team defense, and throw a wrench into everybody’s low expectations. Andrew Nicholson looked pretty solid, Mo Harkless had shades of defensive excellence, DeQuan Jones could score, and even Kyle O’Quinn came off as relatively solid. Okay, then. Maybe we have something here.

Then things got worse (or better, depending on what you wanted to see happen this season). Jameer Nelson and J.J. Redick turned it up, Nikola Vucevic started playing above his pay grade, and Orlando hit a little hot streak. Well, that doesn’t sound like tanking at all! That’s about the time I wrote about this hot streak that would only end in mediocrity and fail to accomplish any goals or dreams about the Magic potentially landing a top three pick.

Then you have the return of Turkoglu and the 10-game skid where Orlando, from night to night, has played well, played hard, and lost a lot of games. Jameerkat posted huge numbers in a handful of those games, as did Vucevic and Aaron Afflalo. But something was missing. Like, I don’t know, a bonafide closer who could ice games for the Magic and boost them above .500 or something.

So we land here, looking at a bad team that seemed kind of decent for a while.

As a Magic writer, I’m perplexed. What is the identity of this team? Is this an overachieving team with a good new coach hellbent on proving the world that they don’t need Dwight or SVG to be a successful team and get to the playoffs? At times, yes. Is this a masterfully-crafted puzzle where the owners and upper management are micromanaging a mediocre team and covertly tanking so as to maintain ticket sales without too much success? Well, yeah. At times, it feels that way too.

I look to two decisions, one past and one present, that should at least make you think about what exactly this Orlando Magic team is insofar as upper management is concerned.

During the summer, Earl Clark, Dwight Howard, Justin Harper, DeAndre Liggins, Daniel Orton, Jason and Quentin Richardson, Chris Duhon, Von Wafer, and Ryan Anderson were all either traded or cut, which would imply the Magic were blowing it up. Some of those guys were truly valuable pieces, especially when thinking about the future.

But the Magic held on to Redick, Nelson, and Davis. Three glue guys, and certainly the best chance to sell season tickets and put bodies in the seats.

I’m not claiming scandal, but why not blow the whole thing up and start from scratch if you truly are tanking? The answer is that you still have to sell tickets, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you want to win a ton of games.

Now fast forward to the present and the real purpose of this post. You’ve got an outright solid player in rookie Andrew Nicholson and a high ceiling to boot. Last week against the Knicks, Nicholson hit all three of his shots from the field in the first quarter in six minutes. He didn’t see the floor again until the second half, where he continued to hit shots and rebound for the limited minutes he was in the game.

Nicholson is rocking a 17.8 Player Efficiency Rating — currently leads all Magic players. His True Shooting percentage is 57.6 percent — he’s practically tied with Redick (57.7 percent) for the team lead. Yet Nicholson only plays an average of 15 minutes per night.

I am not a guy who automatically thinks that if you double his minutes, you will double his output, because that is a slippery slope. But there is no denying that Nicholson does positive things when he is on the court, which makes the team better. The Magic are 1.6 points per 100 possessions better when Nicholson is on the floor, per NBA.com.

These numbers aren’t subtle either, and the coaching staff most certainly are aware of these numbers. So why, then, does Nicholson not get, at the very least, 24 minutes per game as opposed to the 15 he’s currently getting? How can you not let a guy like that play at least half a game?

In the seven games that Nicholson has logged over 20 minutes this season, he is averaging 14.9 points and 6.6 rebounds. That’s a far cry from the 7.2 points and 3.2 rebounds he’s currently averaging in 15 minutes. If you’re good at math, you’ll notice it’s double the output. So maybe the argument of “double his minutes and you’ll get double the production” is not so silly after all, at least in this case.

It doesn’t seem like rocket science. Andrew Nicholson needs more minutes. That is, of course, unless you are trying to shed a game or two without it seeming too obvious.

It’s either that or I’m just not paying attention.

8 comments
Woodshed711
Woodshed711

Saw every home game Nicholson played at Bonaventure and prepared half his meals there. Seems like Magic fans are learning Andrew is a bit 'O' Magic himself. Hate the suggestion of strings being pulled behind the scenes because hidden agendas would not be characteristic of the Nicholson we got to know in NY. Have seen about 10 games on the tube and, one in person. Trying to be unbiased towards my favorite Bonnie of all time my only impression is that HE MUST PLAY MORE!! Logic dictates this conclusion if the season is in any way about winning. Great article.

NickMaurer
NickMaurer

Yea I don't get it. No big men on the team, let alone very few in the league, can score the way he does. He doesn't have tremendous size or power but he's got the skills and finesse to make him a powerhouse in the post... we don't even need to bring up his mid-range jumpers. His defense and rebounding are sub-par but not bad enough to keep him off the court. I would think the Magic would realize it's best for the team this year, and years to come, if he starts getting as much playing time as soon as possible. You can tell he is still in the transition phase and still getting acclimated to the league. More minutes equals more output. I'm not one to give praise to stats either. However its clear when watching, that the team is better when he is in. Those numbers just verify the obvious. So I guess it does raise the question... I'f you really wanna win, why not put Nicholson in?

erivera7
erivera7 moderator

@NickMaurer It's not about winning. It's about nurturing Nicholson's development as a player. 

CarloSimone
CarloSimone

I'd buy this if it was just one game or two.  But we're in a 10 game streak.  Everybody would love to see more Nicholson on the floor, there's no question.  I don't think it's for tanking reasons but I honestly can't explain it either.

magicfaninTN
magicfaninTN

@CarloSimone Did Vaughn bring some research from San Antonio about playing time for rookies? We tend to see the Spurs monitoring the minutes of the old guys, but I wonder if that same set of data gives info that is forming Vaughn's rotation this year. 

I realize this is reaching for an explanation.  Would have to go look at minutes played for rooks in San Antonio to figure this out. Probably should have done that before speculating, but oh well. Consider this a hypothesis not a conclusion.

erivera7
erivera7 moderator

@magicfaninTN @CarloSimone Only thing I can think of is that Vaughn is pacing Nicholson's workload. Playing 82 games as a rookie IS a pretty big jump from college. 

magicfaninTN
magicfaninTN

@CarloSimone I went to look. Too hard to say if my theory has legs. Not enough data to know if limits on young guys on the Spurs is due to age/experience or due to the fact that the Spurs have had better [older] players just soaking up most of the minutes.  After all, rookies are usually just rookies--the Spurs have not had a "superstar" rook in some time--and on a veteran-laden, experienced team like the Spurs, vets get the bigger minutes because with their roster, playing the vets leads to wins. They've not been in a rebuilding mode in a long time.