Denton: Nicholson Envisions Much Success in Orlando

By John Denton
April 4, 2013

CHICAGO – An analytical type and one who usually does more observing than talking – a real rarity in the NBA – Andrew Nicholson can envision a day soon where the grand plan all comes together nicely for the Orlando Magic.

He sees how Nikola Vucevic piles up double-doubles on a daily basis, and how 19-year-old Maurice Harkless appears to be maturing right before the eyes of his teammates and 18,000 fans every night. He sees Tobias Harris scoring at will and Kyle O’Quinn and DeQuan Jones dunking in traffic. And humbly so Nicholson sees his own game getting better and fitting in with Orlando’s young core of promising players.

The 6-foot-9, 250-pound power forward sees all of this and knows that brighter days are ahead for the currently-under-construction Magic.

``If we stay together and continue to work hard I think the sky is the limit for this group,’’ Nicholson said. ``We have a lot of good pieces and we all seem to fit together well. So I think we have a bright future.’’

Nicholson knows a thing or two about rebuilding because of the way he almost single-handedly carried St. Bonaventure to NCAA tournament fame a year ago. The school never won more than 16 games during Nicholson’s first three years on campus before he lead the Bonnies to a 20-12 record and a tourney berth in 2011-12.

Nicholson is still revered on the Western New York campus where his No. 44 Magic jersey is a top seller in the student book store. And many of his loyal fans make the two-hour drive to Cleveland – where the Magic will play on Sunday after facing the Bulls in Chicago on Friday – to see Nicholson in action.

Yes, the Magic have taken their lumps this season as they have fielded a team of five rookies and three second-year players, but Nicholson knows through experience that in time the Magic have the pieces in place for a good team in the future.

``I lost a lot in college. The first three years at Bonaventure, we weren’t that good, so I’ve been a part of a rebuilding program before,’’ Nicholson said with a laugh. ``So I know what it takes to get a team better. You have to be patient and you have to have a good group of core guys to fight through something like this.’’

That’s music to the ears of Magic head coach Jacque Vaughn, who has pushed the development of the Magic’s young players to the forefront as this season winds down. Wins have been difficult to come by, but that’s almost a secondary goal to seeing the Magic’s individual talent get better on a nightly basis.

``We start a couple of 20-year-olds and a 19-year-old, but the part of it that is refreshing is having those young guys grow the way that they have this year,’’ Vaughn said. ``We set out as an organization saying that we were going to put a sustainable product on the floor. Sometimes it takes a little time, but growth is happening and that’s good for us.’’

Much like his game, Nicholson’s strides have been incremental, but steady. He has never been one to blow anyone away with his athleticism or brute strength, instead outsmarting does with precise footwork, sound fundamentals and savvy basketball smarts. He came off the bench Monday in Houston and contributed 10 points and four rebounds, but managed just two points and three rebounds as a starter in San Antonio on Wednesday night.

For much of the season, Nicholson has been instant offense for the Magic. He’s averaged 8.1 points in just 16.5 minutes a game, figuring into almost 24 points and 10 rebounds over 48 minutes. But Nicholson’s ability to hold his ground in the post defensively has kept him off the floor at times, and he knows it’s something that he much continue to address in the offseason.

``I’m not the perfect basketball player, so I can definitely work on every aspect of my game for sure. I’ll be here the majority of the summer working to get better,’’ he said. ``I have to work hard in the weight room to get stronger and more explosive too.’’

A native of suburban Toronto, Nicholson is late to the game of basketball after playing baseball much of his childhood and early in high school. When he continued to grow and his strike zone proved to be too big, Nicholson turned to basketball and hasn’t looked back since.

Magic GM Rob Hennigan took him with the 19th pick of last June’s NBA Draft, and Nicholson has been just what Orlando hoped for as a mature player who they can drop the ball to in the post for buckets. He’s led the team in scoring five times, pumping in 22 against the Raptors in December and 21 in Cleveland in February with several St. Bonaventure fans wearing his No. 44 jersey. His finest performance of the season came in December when he dominated Phoenix’s Luis Scola by making nine of 11 shots for 18 points.

Nicholson, who played well enough early in the season to be chosen to play in the Rising Stars Challenge at the NBA All-Star Game, admitted that the grind of the NBA’s marathon season has taken somewhat of a toll on his – both mentally and physically. He’s also had to make the transition from being the go-to player in college to just another young guy scraping for minutes with the Magic.

``It is really different. From the beginning of the season, you realize that you are just a piece in the game and it’s different than college,’’ he admitted. ``The mechanics and little things that you have to pay attention to, those things are very important at this level.’’

Nicholson knows that the future is bright for the young and developing Magic. He promised that after having endured this rocky rookie season that he’ll be better next season and for years to come.

``It’s tough and different in the NBA,’’ Nicholson added. ``It’s not something that I expected, but I have been through it so now I know. I’ll be better prepared for next year.’’

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