Orlando Magic fans tend to have a complicated relationship with Jameer Nelson. I believe he's, sometimes unfairly, an object of their derision. And he's an easy target, as a shoot-first point guard with merely good passing instincts who pales in comparison with lust objects like Chris Paul and Deron Williams, who can become free agents next summer, along with Magic center Dwight Howard. They're dreaming big, and I can't fault them for that, but they give Nelson short shrift sometimes.
On balance, Nelson's the Magic's second-best player. Ryan Anderson is more talented, more efficient, and more productive, but he plays too few minutes to really be considered in this debate. And indeed a team with championship aspirations employs Jameer Nelson, of all people, as its second-best player. Even casual NBA observers know how silly that idea sounds.
|Points Per Game
|Assists Per Game
|Turnovers Per Game
|Points Per 36
|Assists Per 36
|Turnovers Per 36
All statistics in this table from Nelson's player page at basketball-reference. Career-best statistics highlighted in gold; career-worst statistics highlighted in silver.
Obviously, that's not to say he's a bad player. His toughness, three-point shooting, and ability to take over the odd game here and there make him well above average. But he'll turn 30 in February, is limited as a scorer due to his size, and is vulnerable defensively against the league's bigger point guards. For every positive, there's a negative.
Moreover, that assessment of him in the previous paragraph applied to him last season, or two years ago. Nelson is who he is at this stage of his career. That's not necessarily a bad thing; I maintain he's among the league's best point guards, non-franchise-cornerstone division.
Getting back to the point about positives and negatives, take the stats above, for example: on the one hand, Nelson reached new heights as a playmaker, but on the other, he reached new lows when it comes to turning the ball over.
At his best, Nelson scrambles the defense by breaking it down off the dribble and getting into the lane, then dishing to a teammate on the perimeter for a shot or ball-reversal. That's what Nelson, coach Stan Van Gundy, and his teammates sometimes refer to as "attack mode." There are two issues here.
First, Nelson isn't always in "attack mode." He plays more tentatively than he ought to, which can lead to a stagnant offense.
Second, because of his mediocre finishing skill, he's not a scoring threat on those drives to the basket--unless the opponent lacks size on its front line--so defenses can play him for the pass almost every time. There's a level of predictability to his game.
Another issue, I find, is he's not great at leveraging fast-break chances into easy scores; he's not a push-the-tempo point guard at all. The Magic don't need him to play at Steve Nash's pace. They also don't need him playing at Andre Miller's, either. And too often Nelson falls on the Miller side of the pace continuum.
Having said all that, Nelson's no worse than competent as a third or fourth offensive option, thanks in large part to his three-point shooting. 40.1 percent is much better than merely respectable, and it makes him a good complement to Hedo Turkoglu. When Turkoglu initiates the offense, Nelson can relax a bit and simply spot up. That's more his strength. Within another two or three years, he'll transition into playing more of a Mike Bibby role: a spot-up-shooting point guard who makes careful passes but rarely penetrates, to score or to pass, at all. Take a look at their cumulative stats through age 28. It's eerie. Note the similar ratio of threes to overall field goal attempts, as well as to foul shots. That's the road Nelson's heading down.
But this post is about his last season. He had reasonably high highs and some low lows. I do think one has to weigh his ability to stay healthy--he missed just six games this season after averaging 23.3 over the last three years--as a positive, which boosts him a bit. On the whole, though, Nelson's a starting NBA point guard averaging 13 and 6 on league-average scoring efficiency. So, a
sounds about right to me. He did roughly what Orlando expected of him, in my estimation, neither exceeding nor failing in that regard.