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Kindly Stop Hating on Jameer Nelson

Note: this post was written before last night's game between the Magic and the Clippers.

I hate to write rebuttals to individual blog posts--I prefer to respond to general notions--but there is one thing I'd really like to clear up:

Jameer Nelson is a quality NBA point guard.

In yesterday's edition of the Blogger Power Rankings, hosted by 3 Shades of Blue, one of that site's writers said the following about the Orlando Magic:

Just think about how good they would be if they had a real, live point guard on the roster.

I don't mean to pick on the 3SoB folks, since their site is widely and deservedly recognized as one of the best sources for NBA coverage. I'm merely using their comment to address a common misconception, which is that Jameer Nelson stinks. Surely Jameer can share the blame from some of the Magic's previous disappointments, but to say, essentially, that he's holding them back this season is simply and inarguably false.

I gather that the four biggest knocks on Nelson are that he's a poor defender, that he's turnover-prone, that he's inconsistent, and that he's injury prone. The last one may be true--he has played in only 302 of a possible 348 games in his career, or 86.7%--but the first three, however valid in prior seasons, are not so this season.

  • Fact: Jameer Nelson's defense has improved. Last season, his opponents lit him up for 20.3 points per 48 minutes on 48.4% (eFG) and a PER of 18.2. This year, those numbers have dropped to 19.3, 43.1%, and 15.1. For comparison's sake, Rajon Rondo of the Boston Celtics, often lauded as the league's best defensive point guard, allows his opponents 18.5 points per 48 minutes on 46.2% (eFG) and a PER of 17.3.

    If there's a problem with Jameer Nelson's game this season, it's not his defense.

  • Fact: Jameer Nelson takes care of the ball. Last season, he used 19.0% of the Magic's possessions when he was on the floor, and turned the ball over on 17.4% of those possessions. Despite using more possessions this season--his usage rate has jumped to 21.3%--he's cut his turnovers drastically, committing them on 13.3% of his individual possessions. (Thank you, Basketball-Reference)

  • Fact: Jameer Nelson has played consistently well of late. In the games since back-to-back mediocre performances against Washington and Portland, Nelson's linescores have been well above-average by anyone's standards, not just his:

    • 17 points (7-of-12 FG), 10 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 turnover
    • 21 points (9-of-18 FG), 1 rebound, 2 assists, 2 turnovers
    • 15 points (7-of-10 FG), 5 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 turnover
    • 22 points (10-of-15 FG), 3 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 turnovers
    • 22 points (9-of-16 FG), 3 rebounds, 9 assists, 1 turnover
    • 21 points (7-of-16 FG), 2 rebounds, 6 assists, 1 turnover

    He was still playing well when he injured his hip flexor against Milwaukee, an injury which kept him out of action for 5 games:

    • 8 points (3-of-6 FG), 0 rebounds, 6 assists, 0 turnovers

    And he didn't miss a beat when he returned to action Friday night:

    • 15 points, (6-of-10 FG), 2 rebounds, 7 assists, 2 turnovers

    That's an eight-game stretch in which Nelson averaged 17.6 points, 3.3 rebounds, 5.3 assists, and 1.4 turnovers on 56.3% shooting. Nelson's Pure Point Rating during those 8 games was 6.8, a figure which would place him 9th in the league (behind only Chris Paul, Jose Calderon, Rondo, Chauncey Billups, Baron Davis, Jason Kidd, and Chris Duhon) if he maintained it for a whole season.

It's fair and accurate to point out that Nelson's assist rate has dropped from 31.1% last season to 30.4% this season. However, that slight decline is through no fault of his own. The Magic, as a team, are shooting worse from the field than they did last year. Obviously, fewer field goals means fewer assists. And before anyone asks: Hedo Turkoglu, the Magic's playmaker 1B to Nelson's 1A, has seen his assist rate plummet from 22.9% to 18.9%. So it's not just Nelson who has found assists hard to come by this season.

Summarily, Jameer Nelson is not without flaws, but he's not Orlando's weak link. In fact, his strong, consistent play has helped keep the Magic afloat despite the shooting woes of Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis, who finished last season as the Magic's second- and third-leading scorers. He is a "real, live point guard," and he deserves respect.

UPDATE: From a Sunday post on the blog Love Soft Rims (via BDL):

Howard gets his, despite not having a good point guard, with shifty low post moves and fierce offensive rebounding. Did I mention the Magic need a point guard?