Andrew Nicholson finds his place with the Orlando Magic

Nov 23, 2015; Cleveland, OH, USA; Orlando Magic forward Andrew Nicholson (44) drives to the basket in the second quarter against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 23, 2015; Cleveland, OH, USA; Orlando Magic forward Andrew Nicholson (44) drives to the basket in the second quarter against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports /

While the days on his Orlando Magic career looked numbered, Andrew Nicholson just kept working to establish his role.

It is a familiar narrative you have heard over and over in the NBA.  Mid-first round pick fails to develop, falls out of favor with the coaching staff, and ends up bouncing through the bottom of several rosters or worse on his way out of the league.

That seemed to be the fate Andrew Nicholson’s career was headed toward. Former head coach Jacque Vaughn made him a bench-dweller and his numbers gradually declined over his first three seasons.

Many speculated he would be left on the Magic’s offseason cutting room floor much like Maurice Harkless, who was traded to the Portland Trail Blazers for a heavily protected second round pick the Magic will likely never see.

Actually, it became apparent that his value had sunk even lower than that.

Instead, his new fate heading into the fall would be playing out the string of one final Orlando campaign. That is until Nicholson found his NBA revival.

All of a sudden, the former 19th overall pick has found himself one of the main beneficiary’s of Scott Skiles‘ recent rotational shakeup.  The one that has sent the Magic on a tear, winning six of their last eight.

In that stretch, Nicholson has played less than 20 minutes just once while averaging 9.5 points, 6.1 rebounds, and playing the best defense of his career. Two nights prior to the start of that successful run by Orlando, he had a season-high 18 points in a loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Before heading out on the recent West Coast road swing, it was the play of their once-forgotten teammate that had many in the Magic locker room buzzing.

“He’s been huge,” said Victor Oladipo after a Nov. 29 win over the Boston Celtics. “Andrew does what Andrew does. Score the ball in too many ways. He’s definitely effective for us. When he’s playing like that we’re really good.”

One of the hardest things for any athlete to deal with is not competing. Whether that inaction comes as a result of injuries or not being valued enough to see minutes, the player must struggle with a disconnect from the thing they have most likely centered their life around since a young age.

Nicholson kept working while never complaining. He played one on one games with Channing Frye before practice just to stay fresh.

Other teammates remarked about his steady hand.  Instead of sulking, Nicholson has been buying his time, never getting angry, but always trusting in his own process to improve.

That mentality evident every day they step inside the Amway Center has been something those around him can appreciate.

“He’s been playing well,” said Nikola Vucevic. “It’s not easy when you don’t play for some time. You’re sitting on the bench and you don’t know when your name is going to be called. He stayed ready and that’s the great part about him. You see him working every day. When he doesn’t play, he does his conditioning, does his lifting, does extra work and it pays off.”

Everyone that talks about Nicholson knew that his offensive game was always there. He has teamed with Channing Frye and Jason Smith to form a three-headed rotation of bigs who can stretch the floor by knocking down shots.

It has been the improvements defensively though that have led to a career renaissance in year four and put him in good graces with Skiles.

Andrew Nicholson, Orlando Magic, Ersan Ilyasova, Milwaukee Bucks
Apr 4, 2015; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Orlando Magic forward Andrew Nicholson (44) shoots against Milwaukee Bucks forward Ersan Ilyasova (7) during the second quarter at BMO Harris Bradley Center. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports /

Nicholson was never profiled to be in the league’s top echelon of athletes, but he has brought a willingness to learn and a tenacity to guard.

Those traits coupled with a trust in what Skiles is implementing have been the key drivers creating his beefed up role. That convergence of factors allowed Nicholson to do things like he did this Tuesday night, when he hauled in a career-high 14 rebounds in a win over the Denver Nuggets on his 26th birthday.

While he continues to stand out, it is his teammates that are far more verbose about his contributions.

Ask Nicholson what has led to the spurt of success and you get the same person as always: concise, unassuming, but silently working to improve.

Next: Which Orlando Magic player has improved the most?

“Just simplifying the defense,” said Nicholson. “Keeping it simple, being in the right spot at the right time. Just trusting in the system.”