Evaluating Jameer Nelson

This week, 3QC will take a look back on each Magic player's 2008/2009 season. Each day focuses on one position: Monday for point guards, Tuesday for shooting guards, Wednesday for small forwards, Thursday for power forwards, and Friday for centers. I'll evaluate each individual player at that position at regular intervals throughout the day, while Eddy will make a general survey of the position later in the afternoon.

Having previously evaluated Rafer Alston and Anthony Johnson, it's now Jameer Nelson's turn.

Jameer Nelson
No. 14 Point Guard
Points Per Game Assists Per Game Turnovers Per Game
16.7 5.4 2.0
Points Per 36 Assists Per 36 Turnovers Per 36
19.3 6.2 2.3
PER Assist Rate Turnover Rate
20.6 32.1 12.6
FG% 3FG% FT%
50.3% 45.3% 88.7%
eFG% TS%
58.0% 61.2%

All statistics in this table from Nelson's player page at basketball-reference. Career-best statistics highlighted in gold.

In his first four NBA seasons, Jameer Nelson showed brief, infrequent flashes of what he could become at the professional level. Sound decisions, sweet shooting stroke, energetic defense, leadership... these are all things NBA teams want from their starting point guards, and the things Nelson demonstrated on-and-off during his first four seasons. Finally, in the 2008 playoffs, he put together a consistent stretch of great basketball. It carried over to this season, when he became an All-Star and helped lead Orlando to a league-best 33-8 start. Funny how that works.

The first indication Nelson gave that he'd become an off-the-dribble assassin came in a November visit to Dallas, when he shot 9-of-18 for 21 points. No made three-pointers in that game for Jameer, but all his makes were jumpers in the 15-20 foot range. Teams elected to defend him by going under screens set or him. He punished them for it. This strategy of defending Nelson? Going under screens? Teams were still doing it well after he put the league on-notice with a series of incredible games in December. I don't understand that choice.

So Nelson earned some national recognition after blooming into an All-Star, and most of it focused on his shooting. But his playmaking improved too, at least from the standpoint of not coughing the ball up. Last year, in his first under Stan Van Gundy, he turned the ball over on a career-worst 17.4% of his possessions. This year? 12.6%, a career-best. To be clear, Nelson is not a distributor on par with Chris Paul or Jason Kidd. He is a shoot-first point guard. And while that term carries a negative connotation, it shouldn't in Nelson's case. He's a shoot-first point guard who shoots better than 50% from the field. As long as he continues to improve his shot selection, the shoot-first moniker won't really haunt him.

I'm not here to anoint Nelson as the league's next top point guard. He's not perfect. But for Orlando's system? One which features a dominant center and three other shooters on the floor with Nelson almost all the time? Jameer is pretty darn close to ideal. He doesn't make many mistakes, he can shoot, he has a good rapport with his teammates. He's no slouch defensively either.

The biggest question headed into next season--apart from that of his right shoulder's recovery from a torn labrum--is if Nelson can keep it up. There's a chance, however, slight, that his deadeye shooting this season was a fluke. But until we get any confirmation, all we can do is appreciate what he did for the Magic this season. And what he did was considerable.

Grade: A
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