Denton: Nicholson Staying Positive Despite Slump

Andrew Nicholson

By John Denton
April 8, 2014

ORLANDO – In an effort to determine just what has led to the season-long shooting struggles of Andrew Nicholson, Orlando Magic coach Jacque Vaughn has poured over hours of game video, comparing shots from last year to similar ones from this year.

And Vaughn isn’t alone in trying to uncover the mystery of the missing power forward.

``I’m still trying to figure it out, too,’’ Nicholson admitted prior to practice on Tuesday. ``I think about it all of the time, but the more that you think about it the more that it will mess you up on the court. So I just continue to hope for the best, really.’’

Nicholson is hoping to use the final five games of the season to salvage what has been a disappointing sophomore season in the NBA. What has made it the most baffling is that no one saw it coming considering all of the hours of hard work that Nicholson put in over the summer and his dynamic start to the season.

Nicholson had a solid rookie season, averaging 7.8 points and 3.4 rebounds while shooting a robust 52.7 percent from the floor. Not only did he start 28 games, but he was usually instant offense off the bench what with his flawless footwork in the post and his smooth mid-range jump shot.

Determined to improve, Nicholson spent most of last summer at the Magic’s practice facility to work on expanding his shooting range and getting his body significantly stronger. And when Nicholson wasn’t in Orlando, he was gaining some valuable game experience competing with the Canadian National Team.

All of that work and dedication pointed toward Nicholson taking another step in his career and becoming a fixture in the Magic’s regular rotation. That certainly looked to be a lock when he came into the game in the opener against Indiana, made eight of his first nine shots and drilled two 3-pointers for 18 first-half points.

But part of the beauty – and the curse – of sports is that it is unscripted and doesn’t always go according to plan. Nicholson, a 6-foot-9, 250-pounder who relies more on his guile than his athleticism, has averaged just 5.4 points and 3.3 rebounds while seeing his shooting percentage plummet to 41.3 percent. And after making 20 3-pointers in the first two-plus months of the season, he’s made just five 3-pointers over the past three-plus months.

``It is very frustrating, but I’m just going to stay positive,’’ Nicholson said. ``It’s all that I can really do right now.’’

Nicholson is usually mild-mannered and a man of very few words, but he admits to spending hours thinking about what he could have done differently this season. Like Nicholson, Vaughn has studied game footage and given pep talks to the second-year player in an attempt to provide a spark.

``It’s interesting because I’ve watched his shots and his position on the floor and then I watch 30 games ago and a lot of those are similar shots,’’ Vaughn said. ``I don’t think him working on his 3-point game has bothered his ability to shoot a jump hook from 7 feet. … Overall, even at this level, guys have to feel good about themselves. Andrew has put the work in and hopefully it will put him in the position where it will translate.’’

In most cases, the numbers don’t seem to add up. He shot 60 percent from the left wing last season (18 of 30) and has made just 34.6 percent this season on those same shots. He made 60.7 percent of 15-20-foot shots from straight on last season, but that number has dipped to 20 percent this season. And after making 55.3 percent of his shots just off the right block last season, he’s making just 36.8 percent this season.

It might be difficult for the typical fan in the stands to believe, but even professional basketball players have bouts with confidence issues. That has certainly been a factor for Nicholson, who went from seeing the ball go consistently in the hoop last season to that rarely happening this season. Following a four-game stretch of double-digit games from Dec. 8-13 – including an impressive 19-point, 11-rebound game in Memphis on Dec. 9 – Nicholson has gone 54 games without hitting double figures in scoring.

Vaughn, who has played with Hall of Famers John Stockton and Karl Malone and future Hall of Famers Jason Kidd and Tim Duncan, said even some of the greatest players in NBA history encounter confidence struggles from time to time.

``It’s amazing because I’ve seen it from all levels – from my third-grader’s AAU team or me being in the same locker room as Hall of Famers – throughout the course of the season your confidence gets tested. What do you do to get yourself in a position where you can reassure yourself? We want our guys to find that reassurance from the work that they’ve put in. You can always have that work that’s behind you. I’m confident that Andrew has put in the work.’’

Nicholson wants to use the final five games of the regular season – starting with tonight’s home game against Brooklyn – as a catalyst for the offseason. One of his better games of the season came against the Nets in November when he poured in 17 points, grabbed 11 rebounds and buried all five of his free throws.

Nicholson said he is once again planning to spend his summer in Orlando and wants to use the offseason to better his game. It is there that he also hopes to regain his confidence and his jump shot.

``We’re human, too. So naturally (confidence battles) will happen,’’ Nicholson said of his battles with confidence. ``I’ve just got to get my rhythm back and go back to what I’m really, really good at. I’ve just got to get back to that, really.’’