This summer, 3QC will take a look back on each Magic player's 2007-2008 season. The first nine posts will evaluate, on an individual basis and in alphabetical order, the players who played in at least 20% of the team's total minutes; the final post will briefly evaluate the five players who appeared in less than 20% of the team's minutes.
Today, our focus is Jameer Nelson.
Jameer Nelson surveys the defense of the New York Knicks.
File photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant, NBAE
|Points Per Game||Assists Per Game||Turnovers Per Game|
|Points Per 36||Assists Per 36||Turnovers Per 36|
|PER||Assist Rate||Turnover Rate|
All statistics in this table from Nelson's player page at basketball-reference. Career-high statistics highlighted in gold.
Unfortunately for him, most NBA observers will remember Jameer Nelson's 2007/2008 season as the one in which he guaranteed the Magic would win the fourth game against the Detroit Pistons in the second round of the playoffs. As we saw, both Nelson and his team failed to back up that tough talk, and the Pistons ended the Magic's season a few days later in Detroit. It's a darn shame, too. For all the undeserved flak he took for his guarantee -- my friend Matt Moore from Hardwood Paroxysm, usually even-tempered, wrote, "Jameer Nelson, I hate you," after the fact -- Jameer still had a pretty good season and proved (to me, anyway) he has what it takes to start for a championship-caliber team.
Obviously, that's not to say he was perfect. He turned the ball over on 17.4% of his possessions, the worst mark of any Magic player this season )and the worst of his career). Nelson, the fourth option on offense, seemed almost overeager to defer to his more scoring-inclined teammates, throwing passes into heavy traffic. He's at his best when he probes the lane a la Steve Nash, lulling defenders to sleep before lobbing the ball to Dwight Howard for a dunk; he's at his worst when he dribbles around the perimeter looking to make a play when he should instead get the ball to Hedo Turkoglu.
But if there's one thing that makes Nelson the ideal point guard for this team, it's his three-point shooting. Jameer drilled 52% of his treys after the All-Star break, most of them wide-open as a result of Turkoglu's penetration. If the Magic try to capitalize on Turkoglu's trade value this summer, Nelson may be the beneficiary of higher assist totals since Stan Van Gundy will want the ball in his hands more often; unfortunately, he'll also lose the open three-point looks that make this offense go. It's a wash.
Defensively, Nelson is a virtual zero. It's not that he lacks effort -- you can accuse Nelson of many things, but laziness isn't one of them -- but rather athleticism and height. What I'm about to say may sound harsh, but it's true: he's not cut-out to defend NBA-quality point guards. He's usually able to keep his man in front of him, but it just doesn't matter. Even if opponents can't get around Nelson, they can still shoot over his 5'11" frame (6'00" with shoes). The unofficial list of players who scored season-highs against the Magic in 2007/2008 is filled with point guards whom most average defenders could contain (Rajon Rondo, Darrell Armstrong, Anthony Carter, and Jason Williams immediately spring to mind).
So why do I like Jameer? Because he makes plays; because he's a leader; because, at 26, he hasn't yet entered his prime; and because he's reasonably priced at a little over $7 million a year. Nelson isn't going to make any All-Star teams, but he will provide value at the point guard spot for the Howard/Rashard Lewis Era.
For those readers who are curious: yes, I am cutting Nelson a bit of a break for his early- and mid-season struggles. His father, a welder at a shipyard, died unexpectedly last summer and Nelson needed some time to get his head straight, even spending one game against Charlotte on the Inactive List for a mental break. I have no doubt the rest he gets this summer, along with his natural development as a player, will help him perform at his best next season. He'll prove his doubters wrong.