West Coast trip brings out the Nelson of old

West Coast trip brings out the Nelson of old

Published Jan. 13, 2012 8:20 a.m. ET

About an hour before the Orlando Magic tipped off against the Portland Trailblazers on Wednesday night, I posed a simple question to Magic General Manager Otis Smith: “What’s up with Jameer Nelson so far this season?"

Smith, in typical Smith fashion, gave me a simple, yet clear response. “He’s not being aggressive enough,” said the man who still has the utmost confidence in his 29-year-old point guard.

And no doubt, Nelson has done plenty to earn the respect of Smith, thrilling Magic fans with some terrific play throughout his seven-plus years in the NBA. There is a saying folks within the inner circle of the ballclub have: “As goes Jameer, so go the Magic.”

It is a phrase that more often than not rings true. Since the 2008-09 season (the year the Magic made a run to the NBA finals, and Jameer was named to the Eastern Conference all-star team before suffering a shoulder injury in early February) Nelson has averaged 13.7 points and 5.8 assists per game, shooting 49 percent from the field (a blistering 45 percent on 3-pointers) with an assist/turnover ratio of 2.71 in 133 wins.

In 59 losses, he has averaged 12.9 points and 5.3 assists per game but has been much less efficient, shooting just 41 percent from the field (30 percent on 3-pointers) with an assist/turnover ratio just barely above 2.0.

To further corroborate Nelson’s importance to Magic success, take a look at his Player Efficiency Rating (John Hollinger’s player evaluation metric) through the years. The average NBA PER is 15.0.  In 2008-09, Nelson’s PER was 20.66, the highest rating of his career. In the other three seasons Orlando won 50-plus games, Nelson’s PER was above the league average (15.36 in  2007-08, 15.55 in 2009-10, 15.47 last season). After his first nine games this season, his PER was a career-low 9.62.

There is good news for the Magic and Jameer Nelson. Despite a slow start by the veteran point guard, the team is still winning. After a sweep of Sacramento, Portland and Golden State on the West Coast, only the Chicago Bulls and the Oklahoma City Thunder have a better record than Orlando’s 8-3 mark.

And Nelson is showing signs of picking up his game. He averaged 10 points and 5.7 assists per game on the road trip, while shooting 56 percent from the field and making three of six from 3-point range.

They're not yet the numbers he posted during his impressive run in 2009, but given the fact that, at age 29, he should be entering his prime, there are likely better days ahead for Nelson, and that would mean better days ahead for the Magic.