Kim Klement/USA TODAY
Magic fans want more Andrew Nicholson.
The second-year power forward is easy to spot and he just is a smooth offensive player. His extremely refined post game earned him the nickname "YMCA" as he had his hook shot game working and unleashed an array of post moves that, frankly, called back to a much older time.
Defenses started double teaming Nicholson knowing how efficient he was in the post.
What held Nicholson back last year — he averaged 7.8 points per game in 16.7 minutes per game — was his defense. While it is nice that he added a 3-point shot to his game — he has taken 18 3-pointers in 10 games after not attempting a single one last year — ultimately Nicholson's playing time will be determined by how he contributes on the glass and on defense.
Last year, Nicholson averaged 3.4 rebounds per game, 7.4 rebounds per 36 minutes and a 17.1 percent defensive rebound rate. Already this year, Nicholson is averaging 10.3 points per game and 6.0 rebounds per game with per 36 averages of 18.8 points and 11.0 rebounds.
Nicholson has quite clearly improved some of the weaker points of his game while expanding his offensive repertoire — at least a little bit, Nicholson is shooting just 22.2 percent from beyond the arc.
"When the shot is not falling, you've just got to make it up on the other end," Nicholson said. "That's basketball. I just focus on [defense] and take it one game at a time."
Always a bit deferential to the media, Nicholson said the entire team's defense has seen some major improvements and that the team will continue to grow there.
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Nicholson's growth on the defensive end will certainly earn him more playing time. His defensive numbers are not quite where they need to be, but he is slowly improving on the team.
According to Basketball-Reference, Nicholson's defensive rating is down from 109 to 101 this season. His defensive rebound rate has increased from 17.1 to 26.2. These are not insignificant changes.
NBA.com's Player Tracking stats further reveal that Nicholson is grabbing 57.7 percent of his rebound opportunities and 40.0 percent of his contested rebounding opportunities (a contested rebound is one grabbed with an opposing player within 3.5 feet of the rebounder). Player tracking statistics from last year are not available publicly, but these numbers seem to be improved from last year and is in line with other comparable power forward such as Brandon Bass and Josh Smith.
Whatever help Nicholson can give, Nikola Vucevic certainly appreciates. He said he has noticed Nicholson's improved work on the glass.
It makes my job easier becuase he's been very good at helping me," Vucevic said. "Not only him but Max as well and Kyle and everyone who comes in. Also the guards have been doing a very good job of coming in and rebounding. We got to play defense as a team. It's not something you can do as an individual. We are doing a very good job playing as a team, especially on the defensive end and rebounding."
Several players, including Arron Afflalo, have discussed how the guards would help the post players rebound a lot more. It is a new mentality, Afflalo said, that he and his fellow guards have had to take on more responsibility on the glass. This has freed Vucevic to be more of a shot blocker and rim protector.
Nicholson's improvement on the glass is an important part of his game. But his biggest contribution remains on the offensive end of the floor.
"He's a threat, man," Victor Oladipo said. "He can score in different ways — outside, inside. He's got a lot of moves to his game. He is always a threat. We're fortunate that we have him. He can score in the paint, he can shoot the corner three, he can shoot the mid-range jumper. He's very versatile. So he's got to keep growing and keep continuing to do that throughout the year."
The rebounding is just Nicholson rounding out his game. Something that should continue beyond this second year of his career.