Outside of Vince Carter (and Dwight Howard, at least from the national media), no player has received more scrutiny and criticism than Jameer Nelson. It was hard to remember that Nelson became an all star for the first time in his career last season after he missed almost half the season with a torn labrum and then had an underwhelming come back in the NBA Finals.
When previewing the Magic, a lot of people assumed Nelson would return in near full force (with a little regression to the mean). The caveat, “Don’t forget the Magic are virtually adding an all star to their lineup with Jameer Nelson’s return from injury,” was added to almost any preseason discussion of the Magic.
That, unfortunately, has not quite been the case.
Nelson’s averages are down across the board and another injury forced the point guard to miss games. It started speculation — and wishful thinking from fans — that Jason Williams, who played very well in Nelson’s stead during the injury, should start over the team’s captain. That might be a bit of an overreaction. But it is clear Nelson has struggled.
Jameer is averaging 12.0 points per game and 5.1 assists per game on 44.6 percent shooting. This is down from his All-Star numbers of last year — 16.7 points per game, 5.4 assists per game and 50.3 percent shooting. That is a pretty far fall from last year.
Nelson’s career averages are 12.3 points per game, 4.6 assists per game and 46.2 percent shooting. So Jameer’s numbers this year are somewhat in line with his career numbers. But not by much. It is hard to explain such a big dropoff between an All-Star level year and a pretty clearly below-average year.
Injury has a little to do with that. Nelson missed 17 games after having surgery on his left knee when he tore his meniscus. He has taken a little while to get back into rhythm and re-integrate into the lineup.
Looking at more advanced statistics, Nelson’s struggles are pretty evident in this below average season.
Nelson’s PER is down to 14.6, his lowest since the 2006-07 season (the last in Brian Hill’s plodding offense) and a shade better than his rookie season. That ranks him 31st among point guards, according to John Hollinger. The league average, for the record, is 15.0.
His effective field goal percentage is 50.2% this season, also a low since the 2007 season. And his win shares are a very low 2.7, a low since his rookie season. Nelson is still an important cog of Orlando’s offense, but is not contributing much to wins or losses. At least his usage rate is 21.8 and he is not the focus of a lot of possessions for Orlando this year.
Nelson has also struggled defensively. Orlando’s problems defending opposing point guards is well documented and I do not think anyone would say Nelson is a great one-on-one defender. He has always been pesky, but not a lock-down guy. Nelson’s opponents have a 51.4% eFG% and a 17.9 PER, according to 82games.com.
Where Nelson made his money last year was in the mid-range jumper. He hit on 52 percent of his shots between 16 and 23 feet, according to HoopData.com. This year, he is shooting 38 percent on those shots.
This makes Nelson look like he is really struggling. But Nelson is starting to play much much better. Those numbers should creep up slowly.
In February, Nelson is averaging 13.3 points per game, 6.6 assists per game and is shooting 45.7 percent from the floor, including 42.9 percent from beyond the arc. He has scored more than 10 points in eight of Orlando’s nine games (and the one game he did not, he had 10 assists in helping Vince Carter score 48 against New Orleans) and has dished out at least six assists in five games — and had five assists in three others.
Nelson has clearly outperformed his season to date in a very short time. It could be claimed Nelson has turned a corner and is starting to play closer to his All-Star levels from last season.