Jameer Nelson has a meager stat line — 9.5 points per game, 6.8 assists per game, 29.3 percent field goal shooting. Of course, he also has a meager sample size of four games after missing nearly two weeks of action with a strained groin and hamstring. Very clearly, Nelson is still working his way back into game shape.
Nelson is the captain for a reason. He provides a calming influence and makes plays for his teammates. He is a veteran player and a former all star. Out of any player for the Magic, Nelson is the most consistent. Jacque Vaughn should pretty much know what he is going to get from Vaughn.
Granted, he may need more as Nelson's role continues to increase as he gets back from injury. But Nelson is good for around 15 points and eight assists per game. That is where we expect him to be once he is back to full strength.
Orlando is 2-2 in games Nelson has played and the team is averaging 92.5 points per game in those games, posting an average offensive rating of 96.6. The team's season averages are 90.8 points per game and 96.3 points per 100 possessions.
Nelson's impact has been felt, but it is a slight impact on the offensive end. Considering how much the Magic struggle to score that might matter.
Defensively, Orlando is giving up 93.3 points per game and an average of 97.4 points per 100 possessions in games that Nelson plays, with the team's season average coming at 94.4 points allowed per game and 101.9 points allowed per 100 possessions.
Again, the changes are small, but it is clear Nelson has had a generally positive impact on the Magic and their rotation.
Nelson's impact though might be more in putting players in proper rotation rather than actually creating a positive impact on the floor. Granted, it is a small sample size, but Orlando is slightly more productive on both ends of the floor with Nelson off the floor as opposed to him on the floor.
According to Basketball-Reference, the Magic post a 95.6 offensive rating and 106.0 defensive rating with Nelson on the floor, compared to a 97.0 offensive rating and 101.8 defensive rating with Nelson off the floor. The Magic have posted a -26 with Nelson on the floor this season, according to 82Games.com.
The statistcs do not suggest that Nelson is playing well at the moment. The assumption is that Nelson will regain his typical consistency as a scorer as he gets back into game shape.
Nelson though has expanded his game and is doing more than be just a scorer, the criticism of his game for most of his career. This year, Nelson is posting a career high 6.8 assists per game and is dishing out a 31.8 percent assist rate. Perhaps what is most impressive is that all those assists are coming on an 18.6 percent usage rate, the lowest of his career.
Of course, this is all coming on an extremely small sample size of four games. That is not enough to make many conclusions about Nelson and his season. That is not enough to make conclusions about anybody — although the team has played 10 games which is a little bit larger of a sample size as this team's identity and capability begins to take shape.
Nelson has not only been hampered by that strained hamstring and Achilles, but he also reportedly caught the flu that kept J.J. Redick out of Sunday's loss to Toronto. That surely affected him in the loss to the Hawks.
One thing seems certain. Whether Nelson is on the floor or not, the Magic are a better team when Jameer Nelson is available. His ability to calm his team and run the point makes the offense and defense slightly better. More importantly it sets up matchups along the bench for E'Twaun Moore and Ish Smith.
Nelson will improve and bring his numbers closer to his career averages. That seems certain. He will not use this few possessions the rest of the year — perhaps Orlando needs him to take over more offensively.
However Jacque Vaughn chooses to employ his team captain, Orlando benefits from Nelson's presence. And it is good to have him back.