Denton: High Basketball IQ Helping Drew

By John Denton
February 9, 2013

ORLANDO – There comes a time in every NBA rookie’s basketball life when almost instantly everything that previously had been a blur comes to a crawl as if it were in slow motion.

Suddenly, players know when and where double-teams are coming from without even looking. They develop inner clocks that allow them to instinctively know when to pass and when to shoot. They know that slow and steady often beats hurrying or panicking in the post.

For Orlando Magic rookie power forward, Andrew Nicholson, that on-court epiphany hit recently, allowing him to keep his poise in the post and almost overnight evolve into a go-to scorer for the squad.

``I think one of my trademarks as a player is that I’m learning to read the game a lot better offensively and defensively. It’s to my advantage to have that basketball IQ and it’s up to me to keep using it.’’

Nicholson’s mental and physical growth were on display Friday night when he battered the Cleveland Cavaliers for 21 points on nine of 12 shooting. He spun hard and scored with his right hand, buried free-throw line jumpers and even converted a lefty hook in Tristan Thompson’s face at one point in the game.

Nicholson’s development has gotten to the point where the Magic (14-36) consider him one of their top options offensively. They will assuredly rely on him further Sunday night when Orlando hosts the Portland Trail Blazers at the Amway Center. Tipoff is just after 6 p.m.

The Blazers defeated the Magic 125-119 in overtime in Portland on Jan. 7, a game in which LaMarcus Aldridge had a big scoring night. Center Nikola Vucevic and Nicholson will share the duties against Aldridge, and Magic head coach Jacque Vaughn believes the two young post players are better equipped now to handle such a challenge. ``They are both playing with a lot of poise and confidence right now,’’ Vaughn said. ``That’s great for our young crew. They were doing the right things and finishing. It was great to see.’’

Nicholson said that it dawned on him earlier in the season when he was going through the typical highs and lows a rookie endures that he needed to just stick with what served him best while in college at St. Bonaventure. Several fans of the Bonnies made the three-hour drive to Cleveland on Friday night to show their support for Nicholson, and he responded with one of the finest performances of his pro career. His 21 points were just one off his career high. ``I’m getting stronger, I’m staying within my framework and I’m not trying to do anything too fancy,’’ said Nicholson, who is averaging 7.6 points while shooting a team-best 53.7 percent from the floor. ``I’m trying to not do anything out of the ordinary and just keep doing what I did at St. Bonaventure.’’

Nicholson was asked late Friday night if he ever thinks about how good of a tandem that he and Vucevic can be in the future along the Magic’s frontline. Vucevic notched the 27th double-double of his career on Friday with 25 points and 13 rebounds.

Attempting to stay in the now, Nicholson chuckled at the futuristic question and laughed even harder when he got some good-natured ribbing from fellow Magic rookie Kyle O’Quinn.

``Unfortunately, I’m not a psychic,’’ said Nicholson, who earned a physics degree in college was once nicknamed ``The Professor’’ because of his studious ways.

``You’re not a psychic, you’re a physicist,’’ O’Quinn piped in.

``I’m a physicist – funny, real funny,’’ Nicholson continued, not missing a beat.

``We continue to grow daily, so I can assume that we’ll be stronger years from now. Even a week from now, we’ll be better because we’re growing every game.’’

As for the game slowing down for Nicholson, something that has allowed him to better read defenses and know the right play to make, the rookie said he finally feels totally comfortable in the post. Vaughn has joked all season that Nicholson has ``an old man’s game,’’ referring to his ability to be effective even though he doesn’t possess overpowering strength or flashy athleticism. Instead, Nicholson takes a cerebral approach, relying more on his footwork, his ability to score with either hand and his basketball smarts. In essence, he’s just trying to keep the game simple.

``I’m starting to realize that a lot of the teams basically run the same things and I’m quite familiar with it now,’’ Nicholson said. ``The coaches have been helping me with that and it’s made a big difference for me.’’

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