Remember when Jameer Nelson tore up the Charlotte Bobcats in the first round of the playoffs last year? Remember how he knifed his way through the defense, easily hit jumpers and shut down Raymond Felton?
That Jameer Nelson seems like a distant memory amid the trade rumors surrounding the position, the acquisition of Gilbert Arenas and the apparent shortcomings of this roster. There is no doubt though that for this season, Nelson is Orlando’s point guard.
Nelson has struggled to make the adjustment since the Gilbert Arenas trade. Stan Van Gundy has noticed it too, asking Nelson to play with a little more energy.
“He’s a real key guy for us. He always has been,” Van Gundy said before Friday’s game against the Thunder. “It’s not a matter of just field-goal percentage. It’s his energy, his toughness, his competitiveness and the whole thing. And I’ve got to do what I can do, which is basically probably put him in where he sort of knows where his time’s coming so that he has a chance to get back to being who we need him to be.”
Friday and Sunday were good starts for Jameer Nelson.
Nelson scored 14 points, dished out five assists and shot a 54.5 percent effective field goal percentage in Friday’s win over the Thunder. Sunday he was arguably even better setting the tone by attacking the basket and finding open teammates. He scored 13 points, dished out seven assists and posted a 59.1 percent effective field goal percentage.
The scoring numbers on their face do not completely blow you away, but the aggressive Jameer Nelson made a big difference for the Magic on the offensive end.
Nelson was 3 for 5 at the rim in Sunday’s game according to HoopData, including missing two bunny layups, and 2 for 2 from 16-23 feet. Those two spots, along with the 3-point shot are where Nelson has made his money throughout his career.
This season he is averaging 2.8 attempts at the rim per game, his career low. He has been around 3.0 shots at the rim per game. Getting up to five is something of a big deal to him.
Friday night, Nelson he only took one shot at the rim and missed it. So it is not necessarily Nelson getting to the basket and scoring, it is more about him getting to the basket and making plays for his teammates. The big criticism of Nelson is that he dribbles himself into corners and struggles to get out.
His assist numbers have been up this year — a career-high 6.2 per game. Where his assists come matter more to the Magic. On Sunday, he had four assists leading to makes at the rim and one leading to a 3-pointer. Friday, he had four assists leading to 3-pointers and one to shots at the rim.
If those are the two most efficient shots, Nelson did a good job finding his teammates for them in the last two games.
In his last 10 games, Nelson is averaging 3.2 shots per game at the rim and 2.4 assists leading to shots at the rim per game, according to HoopData. His assist rate in the last two games — 32.6 percent against Charlotte and 28.0 percent against Charlotte — was the first time he had back-to-back games with an assist rate over 25 percent since the Philadelphia and New Orleans games a few weeks ago.
Those who want Nelson to be more of a distributor should note that he has it in him to play that role.
What is most important is how Nelson plays defensively. That can be difficult to judge aside from measuring how his counterpart starting at point guard performs.
Nelson broke even with a 103 defensive rating against Charlotte (Stephen Jackson likely had a lot to do with that), but posted a 95 defensive rating against Russell Westbrook, a player who torched Nelson in the first meeting.
Westbrook scored 18 points on 7-for-19 shooting and had only three assists. Especially good work for Nelson.
Orlando needs Nelson to play with this kind of energy throughout the remainder of the season. There may not be a bigger question mark in the lineup.
When Nelson is playing well, he can play at an All-Star level and make the team go and be a humongous threat in the pick and roll. When Nelson struggles, the Magic can be quite a pedestrian team compared to the other contenders.