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What if Jameer Nelson had been healthy for all of the 2008/09 season?

Mike From Illinois wonders how the Magic's fortunes might have changed if the All-Star point guard had not torn the labrum in his right shoulder, costing him the balance of the 2008/09 season and leading to an awkward comeback in the NBA Finals.

Jameer Nelson
Jameer Nelson
Elsa - Getty Images Sport

Thinking over the last 10-15 years or so of the Orlando Magic franchise history, various "what if" scenarios came to mind. The most intriguing "what if" I could think of was the following... "What if Magic point guard Jameer Nelson never got injured in the 2008-09 season?"

For one thing, I believe the Magic would have been the NBA Champions, defeating the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals, instead of losing in five games.

Orlando was cruising with a terrific 36-10 record on February 2nd, 2009, when Nelson, in the midst of an All-Star season, was seriously injured in a home game versus the Dallas Mavericks. He tore the labrum in his right shoulder after running hard into a Mavericks center Erick Dampier.

How good a season was Nelson having? In 42 games, he averaged 16.7 points per game, along with 5.4 assists, on 50.3 percent field goal shooting, 45.3 percent three-point shooting, 88.7 free throw shooting, with a True Shooting Percentage of 61.2 percent. With those amazing statistics, Nelson became just the fourth NBA player ever (since the introduction of the three-point line in the 1979-80 season) to average at least 16 points per game, while shooting at least 45 percent on three-pointers (minimum 50 three-point attempts), with a True Shooting Percentage of at least 61 percent.

Rafer Alston, who was acquired by the Magic from the Houston Rockets in a three-team deal to fill in for Nelson, did a heck of a job the rest of the regular season and playoffs, and helped lead the team to the NBA Finals. Though Alston's regular-season stats and consistency were a far cry from Nelson's, he still averaged a respectable 12.0 points along with 5.1 assists, though he shot just 41.3 percent from the field with a True Shooting Percentage of 50.9 percent. The Magic finished the final 36 games after Nelson's injury 23-13 to finish the regular season at 59-23 and the number-three seed in the East.

In the NBA Finals though, Alston was very inconsistent, averaging just 10.6 points per game in the five games on 36.8 percent field goal shooting and 15.8 percent 3-point shooting.

The Magic organization decided to play Nelson limited minutes in the Finals for the first time since his injury, but unfortunately, Nelson was just a shell of himself, averaging 3.8 points per game in the five games on miserable 34.8 percent shooting.

The struggles of the Magic point guards throughout the series was likely the main reason why the Lakers were able to defeat the Magic, though there were other factors also.

A healthy Jameer Nelson, who was having a career season, would have given the Magic a decided advantage over his counterpart at the point, the Lakers' Derek Fisher, and in my opinion, would have been enough to bring an NBA championship to Orlando.

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