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Jameer Nelson: Off-The-Dribble Assassin

Editor's note: this post was written before tip-off of last night's Orlando Magic/Detroit Pistons game - BQR

I'll cop to being one of the blogosphere's preeminent Jameer Nelson supporters. That much isn't lost on me. And this site has delivered a ton of Jameer Nelson content lately. By now, you don't need me to remind you of how good he's been this season. But I'm going to do it again anyway, briefly, and possibly for the last time, because I don't enjoy beating dead horses. (Although this particular dead horse is pretty damn fun to beat.)

(Only kidding, PETA. Only kidding.)

For some context, here's an eye-popping stat from Bradford Doolittle of Basketball Prospectus:

On a per-minute basis, Jameer Nelson (15.8 WP3K) has not only been the Magic's best player, he has been the second-best player in the NBA. His 59.7% eFG ranks sixth in the league. No player has been as hot from the outside as Nelson, and he is also doing a much better job of getting to the basket. If starting All-Star berths were handed out for all five actual positions and were determined by merit rather than popularity, there would be a terrific battle between Nelson and Rajon Rondo to be the East's starting point guard in Phoenix.

Indeed, Nelson has sizzled from the field this season, in large part due to his ability to create for himself off the dribble. He has three major weapons: the mid-range jumper, the drive to the basket, and the three-point jumper. With the help of, we'll explain just how lethal he is with any of the three options. Make the jump to read the full story.

He does most of his damage with the mid-range jump shot, which he gets courtesy of Dwight Howard's solid screens. Opponents still go under that screen and dare Nelson to shoot, but that's become a simply awful strategy this season. As of December 27th, Nelson led all NBA players in FG% on two-point jumpers, nailing 55% of them. The next closest player was Ray Allen at 52.6%. More notable than Nelson's percentage is how infrequently he needs anyone else to create for him. Nelson is assisted on only 9% of his two-point jumpers, which makes a ton of sense given the nature of the Magic's offense. He comes off a screen, sees that the defense is conceding the shot to him, and pulls up. And, more often than not, he connects.

If the jumper isn't there, no, problem: Nelson has above-average quickness. Okay, no one's going to confuse him for Leandro Barbosa, but he's quick nonetheless. And when he needs to, Nelson uses that quickness to get to the basket. Only 24% of his attempts come from that distance, but that's okay; he needs to take the open jumper whenever possible. And as we'll see in a moment, he's shooting too well from beyond the arc to pass up any open looks there. It's in the basket area where Nelson does the least amount of damage, at least on a per-game basis, only getting 3.8 points per game there. The low points-per-game average doesn't mean it's wise to let him in there, though. He finishes at a 59.7% clip--his highest among any of the three splits discussed in this post--and only has his shot blocked 7% of the time. About the only bad we can say about Nelson's drives is that he rarely draws contact, having only 5 "and-one" opportunities from close range this season.

Of course, Nelson isn't doing all his damage with two-point jumpers, which are actually among the game's least efficient shots, or with drives to the basket, which understandably are high-percentage in nature. To date, Nelson is the league's sixth-most-accurate three-point marksman, drilling 45.5% of his treys. He benefits from an assist on 73% of those shots. That number seems high until one considers that 61 players are assisted on at least 90% of their three-pointers, including Orlando's own Keith Bogans (100%), Mickael Pietrus (93%), and Rashard Lewis (90%). All told, Nelson is in the bottom-fifth of players in assisted three-point field goals.

What can we take from this? Yes, nearly three in four of Nelson's three-pointers are of the spot-up variety. But one time in four, when the pick-and-roll defense takes away his penetration and/or the mid-range J, he takes a trey off the dribble.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Nelson's surge in scoring is that it isn't compromising his playmaking ability. Check out his advanced stats from his assist rate is basically the same from last season to this season--it's up to 31.6 from 31.1--but he's cut his turnover rate to 13.2 while using more of the Magic's possessions. His usage rate has boomed to 22.6. We should note that it's only the median rate in Nelson's five-year career, but it's a huge upswing from a year ago, when his usage rate was a career-low 19.0.

There isn't much more that can be said about Nelson at this point. He can score in any number of ways, he can create for his teammates, he doesn't make too many costly mistakes, and he's a leader. He's doing all that this team has asked him to do and more.