Magic rookies have begun to take over the lineup.
Maurice Harkless made his first career start Wednesday against Detroit and it is becoming clear that the coaching staff is gaining confidence in his ability and potential. Andrew Nicholson too has made an impact coming off the bench for the Magic. Even Kyle O'Quinn made his non-garbage time debut Wednesday night against Detroit with Nikola Vucevic and Glen Davis fighting off foul trouble.
Jacque Vaughn and the Magic staff are gaining confidence in their young players and they are largely delivering — with still some rookie mistakes to correct and be aware of.
Nicholson has been the biggest producer, and he might have been the most developed rookie coming into the team. Nicholson was a superb scorer in college, averaging 18.5 points and 8.4 rebounds per game in his senior year at St. Bonaventure. His footwork and overall court sense caugh fans' eyes in the preseason and he continues to push for more and more playing time as this season has gone on.
"It’s pretty comfortable. I’m still learning the game. I’m still working hard," Nicholson said. "I go out there and try to provide a positive energy."
In 11 games, Nicholson has posted 6.7 points per game and 2.6 rebounds per game on 50.9 percent shooting. Per 36 minutes, Nicholson is posting 18.6 points and 7.3 rebounds. His numbers look good, especially his 15.7 PER and 56.2 percent true shooting percentage. Granted it is a small sample size.
Nicholson is extremely understated and humble in interviews. He deflects all praise and only recognizes how much work he has to do to continue advancing his career. Nicholson realizes he still has a lot to learn — particularly in defending the post in the NBA — and that he is only 11 games into his career.
Nicholson though has seen his playing time gradually increase in this early part of the season and has seen Jacque Vaughn turn to him more and more. He has played at least 13 minutes in six of the last eight games.
None of them may have been statistically better than his 15-point effort Wednesday against Detroit. Nicholson shot seven for nine from the floor in that game, displaying the variety of scoring methods he has in his arsenal.
Nicholson may not be willing to admit it, but his teammates already see how special Nicholson can be.
"Andrew was obviously great tonight scoring the basketball," J.J. Redick said after the win Wednesday. "He seems to do that naturally. He’s learning, he’s getting better as far as defensive positioning and awareness. One thing he can do is score the basketball, and he does it impressively."
Nicholson was already a pretty polished player in the post and was pretty good at finishing around the basket. What may have surprised many fans was his ability to step out and shoot from around 15 feet and even further out.
He has hit on 9 of his 25 shots beyond 10 feet including 8 for 20 from 16 to 20 feet, according to Basketball-Reference. This is the shot defenses are giving him in pick and rolls and he has been confident taking them. Nicholson will have to continue taking and making this shot to force defenses to guard him and become an even bigger weapon for the Magic.
"Andrew, he continues to gain trust from the coaching staff," Vaughn said. "He has been great. His ability to continue to learn and play with a maturity, he’s got a good ceiling ahead of him. I’m happy to be a part of trying to help him get there."
Certainly, Nicholson still has a long way to go to get to his potential. Through his first 10 or so games though, Nicholson has delivered and offere more than many could anticipate early on in the season.