Following Wednesday’s 108-105 loss to the Denver Nuggets, the Orlando Magic have now lost 10 straight basketball games. The Magic continue to compete yet have seemed to come away with one disheartening loss after another of late. But one bright spot over this recent stretch has been the play of veteran point guard Jameer Nelson.
On Monday night, the Magic fell in overtime to the Portland Trail Blazers 125-119. But it was a history-making night for Nelson. Long before knocking down a clutch three-pointer that sent the game into overtime, Nelson surpassed Scott Skiles as Orlando’s all-time assist leader.
Although the Magic have not been winning, Nelson has been outstanding of late averaging better than 25.3 points and eight assists over his last four contests after missing two games with a hip injury. Over Nelson’s last seven games, he is averaging 22.9 points and 8.4 assists-per-game.
Despite losing their two leading scorers from a year ago, Nelson is averaging a career-high 7 assists-per-game which ranks him ninth in the NBA. Nelson is also averaging a career-high in rebounds, steals and free throw percentage. At 92.5 percent, Nelson would be second in the league if he had enough attempts to qualify. His 15 points-per-game average is the second highest of his career and at the age of 30, Nelson is playing more minutes-per-game than ever by a large margin.
With Nelson running the show, Arron Afflalo, the injured Glen Davis and J.J. Redick are also in the midst of career years. A lot of that has to do with those three guys being forced to have larger roles, but Afflalo’s scoring average is nearly 2.5 points-per-game higher than his career-high average from a season ago. Davis is shooting the highest percentage from the field since his rookie season and Redick’s field goal percentage is on par with his career average.
But while Nelson’s recent numbers show how well he has been playing of late, his franchise assist record shows how valuable he’s been for the Orlando franchise. Rarely has Nelson been regarded as one of the league’s premier point guards such as Deron Williams, Chris Paul or Tony Parker, but over his Magic career, not much more could have been asked of him.
Nelson is one of only seven Magic players ever to be named to an All-Star team as he was selected during Orlando’s Eastern Conference championship season of 2008-09. Unfortunately, Nelson did not play in the All-Star game due to an arm injury that cut his season short. Nelson has battled some injury since, but has played in nearly 80 percent of Orlando’s games since the arm injury.
Like almost any other, Nelson’s career has not gone without criticism. Many questioned whether Nelson should have returned for the 2009 NBA Finals after Orlando had made a playoff run with mid-season acquisition Rafer Alston as the point guard. Orlando holding on to Nelson also shared in the blame for former center Dwight Howard’s unhappiness with the Magic.
In today’s NBA, starting at point guard for one team for seven straight seasons is a rare feat. Knowing that the Magic were in a rebuilding stage, Nelson could have certainly left for greener pastures in the offseason to a contender looking for a point guard or to add depth at that position. Instead, he elected to stick around and help develop a young, inexperienced team. Once this team blossoms into a contender, Nelson may not even be around to reap the benefits. As of now however, he’s helping to get them there.
Although Nelson has missed about 20 percent of Orlando’s games over the past four seasons, he has been a model of consistency when healthy. For a franchise like Orlando with a history of chaos, Nelson has been a calm through the storm. He has been the team’s starting point guard through the longest era of prosperity in Magic history. Now with more assists than any Magic player ever, Nelson has helped cement his place as a vital piece to a Magic puzzle that has historically had trouble holding on to key pieces.
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