The first rookie in last year's reclamation project really to get playing time nad attention was the one with the most polish. The Magic seemd to have found a gem in the middle of the first round in St. Bonaventure's Andrew Nicholson.
Nicholson consistently displayed a refined offensive post game as he was able to work his way around the basket for hook shots and outmanuever most opponents. He developed a nice little jumper too out to about 16-18 feet, helping the Magic spread the floor some. Nicholson proved to be a solid offensive option.
The stats bear that part out. He averaged 7.8 points per game on 52.7 percent shooting. According to Synergy Sports, Nicholson produced 0.97 points per possession including 1.01 points per possession on spot-up jumpers. Nicholson had a decent season, but there was also plenty to develop.
This is where Year Two comes in for Nicholson. He has to show he can be a better rebounder and defender if he wants to earn playing time in an increasingly crowded Magic front court — Thursday's signing of Jason Maxiell only added to the logjam that already has Nicholson, Tobias Harris, Glen Davis and Romero Osby competing for time.
That process started last week at the week of Summer League games in Orlando. Nicholson averaged 10.8 points and 2.6 rebounds per game, shooting 46.8 percent from the floor. He had a slow start in the first two games offensively but came on stronger as the week went on, showing off the offensive skills the Magic know he has.
"We told [Nicholson] just to shoot the next one," James Borrego said. "He has taken that shot a thousand times, he has made it a thousand times. He's very comfortable shooting it out to 17. Every time he shoots it, I think it's going in. Every time we put the ball into the post to him, he does something well. I knew his shot wasn't falling early, but that doesn't mean we weren't going to go to him. I think he needs to see a couple go through the net. That's a shot that he consistently makes. He's very comfortable shooting that hook."
Offensive confidence is not Nicholson's issue. He showed even more patience and refinement in his post game last week, doing nice up and under and step through moves in the post. That is not the issue. Defense is.
According to Synergy Sports, Nicholson gave up 1.26 points per possession on post ups and 0.97 points per possession overall. The post-up numbers suggest one of the big problems with Nicholson. So too does his rebounding numbers. Nicholson averaged only 3.4 rebounds per game. In Summer League, Nicholson grabbed only 2.6 rebounds per game.
Improving his low post strength and defense had to be the focus for Nicholson this offseason.
"I'm still working," Nicholson said of his overall work this offseason. "I've been working hard in the gym through most of the spring. It's been paying off pretty well.
"I'm doing a lot of stuff I really couldn't do last year. Finishing better, getting in better position [because of added strength]."
Nicholson said he wants to help be in the right spot as a team on defense and make sure guys are in the right coverage. He said defense is something he worked on since the spring and he said he feels he has been able to make some progress.
Nicholson certainly looked like he had put on some weight. The rest of the offseason will be about figuring out how to use that.
Borrego said the added strength in Nicholson was noticeable during the week of Summer League. He said he saw Nicholson finsihing through contact and scoring with the added strength. He also noted that Nicholson is puting himself in position to catch the ball in better positions to score. Even in Summer League, Borrego noted Nicholson was doing things that he was not able to do last year.
Of course, that is with the ball in his hands. Nicholson may have improved his offense some with the added strength and footwork. That will help him plenty next year.
What he still needs to improve on is a little bit harder to see. Nicholson still tends to turn the ball over when double teamed and his defensive instincts still need some work. That comes with experience. That is something the Magic should be able to give him even with this crowded frontcourt.
The next phase for Andrew Nicholson will largely come for him when the ball is not in his hands. That evolution though appears to have begun this offseason.