Player to Watch: Jameer Nelson
Two of the most frequent questions through this Player to Watch series have been "Is he real?" and "Is he back?" That stands to reason: so many teams rely on internal improvement, especially with the league's financial situation restarting a leaguewide thaw on superstar trades (Shaquille O'Neal aside). Fans need to know whether they can count on improving players to keep on going, and whether injured stars can be expected to return to form.
You'd think Magic point guard Jameer Nelson would be facing the latter query -- has Jam's separated shoulder healed well enough to recreate Orlando's awesome starting five? But to me the real question is whether the pre-injury Nelson was even real, or just a short-lived mirage of elite play ready to fall back to Earth.
To choose an answer with any conviction, we need to discern what exactly made Nelson so much better last season, in comparison with previous campaigns. And I think I found a big clue: his jump shoot was unbelievably wet.
Here are a set of line graphs showing Nelson's effective shooting percentages on "close" shots and jump shots over his career. You may notice a red flag somewhere near the end.
Last season, Nelson shot jumpers like he never had before. Jam's previous season high effective field goal percentage on jumpers was 49.8 percent in 2005-06. He shot an amazing 58.2 percent on jumpers last year. You expect improvement from your young guards, and Orlando's team offense was certainly more stable last season than ever before. But that sort of superlative performance screams like a fire alarm. Can the Magic really expect Nelson to shoot so deftly again?
I would argue that Nelson is surely set to come back toward Earth. Even the best shooters in the game -- guys like Jason Terry (51.9 percent on jumpers last season), Steve Nash (54.7 percent), Chauncey Billups (49.9 percent), Ray Allen (56 percent), Jason Kapono (51.5 percent), Kevin Martin (48 percent), Roger Mason Jr. (53.3 percent), Dirk Nowitzki (48.2 percent), Steve Blake (54.1 percent), Michael Redd (46.4 percent) -- don't shoot like that. And we're supposed to believe a player who was an average jump shooter over his first four seasons got that much better in Year 5? It's just not very plausible.
Luckily for Orlando, a substantial drop-off would still make Nelson one of the most effective shooters in the league, and would still mean great things for the Magic offense. With Dwight Howard getting better every year at passing out of the post, a weapon like Nelson on the perimeter -- a deadeye shooter who can keep defenders honest with his driving and passing skills -- is vital. Nelson should still be a great asset for the Magic, even if he can't replicate his unbelievable shooting season of a year ago.
All shooting data from 82games.com.