The Magic's signing of E'Twaun Moore this summer signaled a desire to add a little more versatility to the roster. Moore had never really played point guard before this year and he was always more of a scorer than a distributor. There were questions about how he could lead the team. With Ish Smith behind him, the Magic had a backstop of sorts.
Moore though is a shooting guard and perhaps some of the plan might have been to groom Moore into a point guard capable of playing alongside Jameer Nelson.
Nelson too came into the league much like Moore, although with much more point guard experience. Nelson played at St. Joseph's next to Delonte West. The two, more or less, split time at point guard and were both capable ball handlers. Nelson though was destined to be more of a point guard thanks to his height. But the lingering criticism of Nelson is that he is not much of a passer.
The acquisition of Beno Udrih and the flexibility Moore provides the Magic changed a lot of that. Really for the first time in Nelson's career, the Magic can use him the same way that St. Joseph's did nearly a decade ago. And Nelson can become more of a scorer.
"It takes the pressure off us," Beno Udrih said following Orlando's win over Philadelphia two weeks ago, the first game the teams used Udrih and Nelson together. "Usually teams deny one guard. It's the point guard that is supposed to get the team in sets.
"When they were denying me, so [Jameer] was playing the point guard. When they were denying him, I was playing the point guard. We can both shoot the ball. We can both cut to the basket, get our teammates open. It worked well today so hopefully we can keep it going."
Yes, Orlando is experimenting with Nelson off the ball with Udrih or Moore as the primary point guard. Late in several games since the trade, Jacque Vaughn has used a lineup that features Jameer Nelson and Beno Udrih together. This enables Nelson to get the ball while still having his dribble alive. That makes him a much more dangerous offensive weapon.
Moore is still learning the point guard position. He was often paired on the floor with another ballhandler — whether it was J.J. Redick or Nelson — to relieve the pressure on him. It had its success for sure and its struggles as you would expect with a young team.
Moore and Nelson have played together in 32 games this season. The Magic are shooting 41.9 percent in the 303 minutes they have been on the floor together and they are scoring 96.9 points per 100 possessions, below the team's average. The duo is -10 when on the floor together.
Insert Beno Udrih instead and the results improve significantly.
"It really did, I think [the three-guard lineup] changed a lot for us on both ends of the floor," Vaughn said after first employing the lineup against Philadelphia. "I thought Beno did a great job of orchestrating a lot of things for us which gave Jameer the opportunity to be off the basketball a little bit and he made some big shots for us."
While Nelson and Udrih have appeared together in just four games for 42 minutes, Orlando is posting 116.5 points per 100 possessions and is shooting 51.9 percent. The Magic have an assist rate of a 63.4 percent when they are on the floor together. In the limited minutes they are playing together, this duo has been effective playing off each other.
Granted, the duo struggles defensively, giving up a 111.5 points per 100 possessions.
It is hard to believe the Magic have relied on Udrih so much after acquiring him only three weeks ago. The adjustment has been relatively smooth as Udrih is averaging 7.1 points and 4.9 assists per game with Orlando. He has also posted an impressive 37.6 percent assist rate.
Udrih's ability to distribute the ball has enabled Nelson to spread his wings a bit more offensively.
Nelson is indeed having his best scoring season since his 2009 All Star season, averaging 15.0 points per game. He is also posting a career high 7.5 assists per game and is on pace for his sixth straight season with an assist rate better than 30 percent — posting a 33.3 percent assist rate this season. Despite shooting pretty poorly by his standards — 39.8 percent — Nelson is contributing a lot.
Since Vaughn experimented with this lineup, Nelson has scored at least 20 points in three of the four games and has recorded at least seven assists in each game. Of course, Nelson playing off the ball is a small portion of that pie.
Ensuring that Nelson gets himself going offensively is pretty key for this team right now, however. Nelson is not and probably should not be a primary offensive weapon. However the reality of this team has thrust him into that role on several occasions. His efficiency has thus dropped.
But taking away one of those responsibilities should theoretically help improve his efficiency.
It has helped the Magic to have all their best players on the floor and free up Nelson some to be what he is: a scorer.