Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images
With Jameer Nelson having finalized a two-year, $6 million deal with the Mavericks last month, he joins just his second different team of his 10-season tenure in the NBA.
As has been covered comprehensively during “Jameer Week” here at Magic Basketball, Nelson has been a model for consistency (sans his 2008-09 season) and loyalty throughout his career. But he’s not done just yet.
Nelson may be 32 years of age, but he is still a valuable NBA player. In a league littered with fantastic point guards, the fact that Nelson has maintained a starting role into the beginning of his 30s says that he isn’t just hanging around the league to collect a few more paychecks.
Last season — while his 13.9 PER was slightly below the league average — Nelson did maintain solid offensive production. He generated an above-league-average 0.78 points per possession as the ballhandler in pick-and-rolls, per Synergy Sports. That number could possibly improve with him now playing alongside far superior pick-and-roll big men in Dirk Nowitzki and Tyson Chandler, as well as Chandler Parsons, who is expected to play some small ball power forward for the Mavs.
The last time that Nelson played with such a talented group of bigs was in 2010-11 when the Magic had Rashard Lewis, Dwight Howard, Brandon Bass, Ryan Anderson, and Marcin Gortat (Lewis and Gortat would go on to be traded). In that season, Nelson averaged 0.89 points per possession as the pick-and-roll ballhandler, per Synergy Sports.
It was clear that Nelson’s pick-and-roll numbers in 2013-14 were hurt by the poor (yet improving) offensive play of some of the Magic bigs, and while he definitely bailed out the defense with long jumpers from time-to-time, Nelson was nonetheless very dangerous when attacking off the screen.
None of Nelson’s offensive statistics from last season really jump out at you — he was, true to the piece written by Spencer Lund earlier this week, quite average. But average isn’t a bad place to be in the NBA, especially if the Mavericks decide to give him heavy minutes with the bench unit, perhaps backing up Devin Harris.
Nelson was a sneaky-solid defender, too. While Arron Afflalo would tend to match up with some of the tougher guard assignments, Nelson certainly held his own on that end of the floor. We may see a slight decrease in his defensive abilities this coming season due to aging or we may not. Whatever the case may be, he’ll still likely be an upgrade defensively from Jose Calderon for Dallas, and perhaps even better than we’ve seen before, what with coach Rick Carlisle’s rare ability to squeeze every last drop of talent and energy out of his players.
Nelson is also a veteran of the league. While the value of veteran leadership often becomes a mockery on basketball Twitter, there’s no questioning the value, come playoff time, of a player who has been there before. Particularly on this Mavericks roster, where barely a handful of players have made deep postseason runs. Nelson’s experience will be valued on a team with solid depth looking to make some noise both during and after the regular season.
With the slow, yet evident decrease that we’ve seen in Nelson’s play over the past couple of seasons, a change in scenery may turn out to be a blessing for him.
It’s been clear that Orlando has been in a rebuilding stage the last two seasons, and that could understandably be tough for a veteran who has yet to win a championship. Nelson admitted as much. It’s hard to fault a player in the latter stages of his career for wanting to win a title.
With this move comes a new and realistic motivation for Nelson, who is now playing with the most talent he’s seen since the Howard days. He’s in a great situation, too. Having likely just passed the tail-end of his prime, now is a better time than ever to have a whole heap of the offensive load lifted off of his shoulders, where it can be shared with Nowitzki, Ellis, Parsons, and Harris.
When combined with the fact that he’ll be playing in Carlisle’s creative pick-and-roll system, things are certainly looking good for Nelson. He’s been through rebuilding, contending, and rebuilding again. He’s done his duties in Orlando. Now it’s time for the next chapter.