Andrew Nicholson takes step backward in second year with Magic

A first-round draft pick by the Orlando Magic two years ago, forward Andrew Nicholson turned out to be less productive than he was during his rookie season.

Andrew Nicholson (left) averaged only 5.7 points while shooting 42.9 percent from the floor.

Kim Klement / USA TODAY Sports

Andrew Nicholson began his second year with the Orlando Magic scoring 18 points in the first half of their opener at Indiana.

He had nowhere to go from there but down. Still, the inability of their first-round draft pick from 2012 to rarely play more than 15 minutes a game for almost a four-month stretch was one of the most disappointing aspects to the Magic's season.

Although the 6-foot-9 Nicholson averaged 10.1 points and 5.4 rebounds through the first 23 games, all but two of those contests came while the Magic were without Tobias Harris. The play of Harris after he was acquired from the Milwaukee Bucks before the trading deadline in February 2013 raised questions going into training camp about how coach Jacque Vaughn would divide minutes at power forward.

When Harris finally recovered from his high left ankle sprain and was inserted into the starting lineup Dec. 18, Nicholson's prolonged stretch of relative inactivity began. He was averaging more than 21 minutes a game up to that point but never played more than 20 minutes in any game from Dec. 23 to April 5 as Harris and Kyle O'Quinn figured far more prominently than him.

All the progress Nicholson made in 28 starts during his first season and from playing in the Magic's summer league went out the window. Nicholson's scoring average fell from 7.8 points as a rookie to 5.7 as the Magic went 23-59.

His field-goal percentage took a significant drop as well, and he went to the free-throw line a total of only 57 times in 76 games. His player efficiency rating of 9.9 was the lowest of anyone on the Magic who played more than 53 games.

To try to keep Nicholson's confidence from taking a beating, Vaughn assured him that the mid-range jump shots and jump hooks which weren't falling with the regularity the year before would eventually find the mark.

"Don't change your mental makeup. Don't change your physical makeup. Do what you've been doing. The ball is going to go in for you," Vaughn said late in the season. "And there were more dynamics to the game that we kept enforcing, whether he was rebounding, whether he was playing aggressive, whether he was trying to take a charge, being vertical at the rim for us. But he continued to practice those same shots."

As it turned out, Nicholson went 8-of-9 from the floor at Chicago in the Magic's next-to-last game. That performance didn't completely salvage his season, but it could be a sign that things will get better in his third year.

"It is a good feeling to be a player and go into the offseason and have a good feeling about yourself and about your game," Vaughn said. "We talked about hopefully getting Andrew to that point."

WHAT HE DID RIGHT

He added a 3-point shot to his offensive repertoire. Nicholson never took a shot from that distance as a rookie but connected 28 times in 89 attempts in 2013-14. Given the struggles Tobias Harris had from 3-point range, Nicholson could become the forward who the Magic can count on to stretch a defense, which is becoming almost a necessity in the NBA.

WHERE HE NEEDS TO IMPROVE

Despite an offseason conditioning program which included plenty of time in the weight room, Nicholson's rebounding average stood pat (3.4). If he's going to struggle through another season where he shoots only 42.9 percent from the floor, Nicholson needs to step it up when it comes to rebounding and defense.

BEST GAME

Oct. 29 at Indiana. While the crowd was understandably interested in seeing Victor Oladipo's regular-season NBA debut, Nicholson stole the show during the first half against the Pacers, coming off the bench to hit eight of 10 shots, including both of his 3-point attempts.

LOOKING AHEAD

Nicholson was one of four young players whom the Magic exercised their contract options on before the start of the season. But compared to Harris, Nikola Vucevic and Maurice Harkless, Nicholson's future with the team beyond next season is far less certain.

You can follow Ken Hornack on Twitter @HornackFSFla or email him at khornack32176@gmail.com.