Nelson Makes Magic Go

By Noah Sharfman
March 21, 2011

ORLANDO -- Attention NBA head coaches: do you want the secret of how to slow down the Orlando Magic’s high-powered offense? Listen closely because the answer may be surprising. To shut the Magic down offensively, you must slow down and limit Jameer Nelson.

Nelson’s on-court production is often a tell-tale sign for the Magic as it relates to the team’s success. On a recent telecast between the Magic and Phoenix Suns, analyst Jeff Van Gundy said the key to the Magic’s success is in the hands of its point guards, specifically Nelson. Simply put, when Nelson is playing well, the Magic win.

This season, Nelson is having a very productive offensive year, averaging 13 points and over six assists a game, the highest assist mark of his seven-year NBA career. Nelson has already scored in double figures more times this season than he did all of last season, while also leading the team in assists in more games than he did in 2009-10. This season, when Nelson dishes out seven or more assists in a game, the Magic are 20-8.

In addition to sparking the Magic’s offense with his scoring and passing, Nelson has delivered late in games for the Magic. Nelson’s most memorable moment this season came at the end of the Magic’s recent matchup against the Denver Nuggets. With 5.7 seconds remaining in a tie game, Nelson collected an inbounds pass near midcourt, took three dribbles and pulled up for a shot well beyond the arc. Hitting nothing but net, Nelson drained the game-winning 3-pointer over Denver’s Ty Lawson as time expired, securing an 85-82 victory for the Magic.

“It was up to me to make a play for myself or for somebody else,” Nelson said. “It felt good when it left my hand. I knew I had a great chance. You all know I don’t shy away from the last shot at all. (I’m) definitely willing to take the last shot, make or miss, and live with the results.”

On the Magic’s West Coast road trip in the middle of March, Nelson also played a pivotal role in the team’s victory over the Sacramento Kings and helped the Magic force overtime against the Golden State Warriors.

Against the Kings, Nelson poured in a season-high 26 points and dished out four assists. Defensively, Nelson added to the Magic’s victory with three steals. He then followed with another equally impressive effort against Golden State, where he scored 24 points, dished out eight assists and had two steals against the Warriors.

“I’ve noticed that (Orlando Magic Head Coach Stan Van Gundy) is running more pick-and-roll plays and I’ve tried to attack out of it and try to get it going early in the game,” Nelson said. “I’d say we’re doing a really good job of mixing up what we’re doing offensively so teams can’t get into a rhythm against us. But with me it’s all about staying in attack mode.’’

Nelson’s game-winning shot against Denver wasn’t the first time this season the crafty point guard has delivered in the clutch for the Magic. In November Nelson earned the nickname Mr. Saturday for his end-of-game heroics on consecutive Saturday s which led to narrow road victories over the New Jersey Nets, Indiana Pacers and Washington Wizards. Only a matter of weeks after sealing victories for the Magic on the road, Nelson hit the tie-breaking and eventual game-winning shots to seal a victory over the Boston Celtics at home on Christmas.

“You know, Jameer is never afraid,” Van Gundy said after the Magic’s Christmas day victory over the Boston Celtics. “That’s one thing, Jameer has made a lot of big shots here and he’s tough in those situations and he’s been in the m a lot. No fear whatsoever.”

Nelson is often the shortest player on the court, and while he might lack the traditional height common among NBA players, he makes up for his demonstrative size with his quickness and play on the court. Upon first glance, it is hard to believe that Dwight Howard might not be the most instrumental piece to the Magic’s offense.

And while it is true that Howard is having the single best offensive season of his career, it is really a combination of he and Nelson that ultimately equates to the Magic’s success.