Jameer Nelson has always had to fight to stand above the crowd. With the postseason coming up, he will have to turn up bigger than ever before to get the Magic where they want to go. Photo via Flickr
Jameer Nelson had his way with the defense in the first eight games of the postseason. Raymond Felton and Mike Bibby looked lost as Nelson drove in and out of the paint and led a Magic team often dealing with Dwight Howard foul trouble. For sure, the first two rounds were all about Jameer Nelson.
Even the 2008-09 regular season was all bout Jameer Nelson. Nelson had a career-best season averaging 16.7 points per game and 58.0 percent effective field goal percentage. Orlando was on pace to get home court advantage throughout the playoffs in a year they went to the Finals before Nelson tore his labrum and missed the remainder of the season.
Like Nelson or hate Nelson. Believe in him or don’t. Want to trade him or keep him. But there is no way anyone can deny how crucial Nelson is to the Magic and how important he is to the team.
“It’s very imperative that [Nelson] has a big postseason and that Dwight has a big postseason and Turk has to be Turk.
“Really when it comes down to it for us, our team goes as Jameer goes. When Jameer is going and getting everybody else involved, we’re pretty good. You could say that about a center, but it’s a difficult spot, because he doesn’t have the ball as often and he doesn’t necessarily have to make plays for other people. But Jameer is actually a pretty good key for us.”
Since Dwight Howard is a center, he does not have the ball in his hands. Nelson does. As much as you want to avoid pointing at the final two minutes of the game, the fact of the matter is, the offense begins and ends with Jameer Nelson.
Nelson is averaging 13.2 points per game and shooting 44.8 percent from the floor this year. Those are not numbers Orlando expects from its point guard. The kind of numbers the team does expect is how he has played since the All-Star break.
Since then, Nelson is averaging 15.5 points per game, has scored in single digits just three times (once because of an injury suffered in the first half), dishing out 5.6 assists per game and shooting a 54.5 percent effective field goal percentage. Those numbers in that stretch, where Orlando has gone 15-8, is more in line with what Orlando wants from Nelson.
Everyone knows Dwight Howard is going to step up his game in the postseason. He has done so the last three postseasons.
It may surprise you to learn Nelson has also stepped up his game when the lights get brighter. Nelson averaged 19.0 points per game and 4.8 assists per game while shooting 47.9 percent from the floor and 56.6 percent effective field goal percentage. Taking out the 2009 postseason that Nelson missed until the NBA Finals, Nelson is averaging 17.3 points per game and shooting 56.1 percent effective field goal percentage.
His career numbers in the regular season are 12.5 points per game and 51.4 percent effective field goal percentage.
You can see how Nelson improves in the postseason. You can also see that in last year’s postseason how Nelson proved to be such a crucial difference.
The Hawks are a different team than last year. They dumped the defensively-challenged Mike Bibby for Kirk Hinrich, well-known for his defensive abilities. Part of the reason for this was undoubtedly to deal with point guards like Derrick Rose and Rajon Rondo. But also to deal with Jameer Nelson, who averaged 17.3 points per game, dished out 6.0 assists per game and shot 64.1 percent effective field goal percentage in last year’s playoff series against Atlanta.
Teams know they must find a way to contain Jameer Nelson, keep him from attacking the basket and hope he is not hitting his mid-range jumpers. Nelson is most effective when he gets tot he basket on the pick and roll to dish down to Dwight Howard or out to the 3-point line. He is not effective when he just pulls up for jumpers. His jump shot becomes more effective when he complements it with drives to the basket.
Now, Nelson’s defense still leaves something wanting. We saw Rajon Rondo dominate the Eastern Conference Finals last year and Derrick Rose posted an (likely) MVP-clinching 39 points Sunday. Those are the type of performances Orlando cannot afford to give up in the postseason.
Still as much as Nelson must prepare for opposing point guards, other teams must prepare for him. In just the last month, Nelson has shown he is unafraid of big moments — see the allowed game-winning 3-pointer against the Nuggets and the dis-allowed game-tying 3-pointer against the Bulls on Sunday — and those that have watched his career know this has always been true.
Nelson has always been a fighter. This year’s postseason, the Magic will expect him once again to shoulder a larger load. And if history is any indication, Nelson will be able to do it.