After being selected with the 19th pick in last year's draft, Andrew Nicholson compiled several good--but not great-- games to make up his rookie season. The St. Bonaventure product showed flashes of brilliance on the offensive end with his nifty shotmaking ability and well-developed low post game, but he also struggled mightily on the defensive end of the floor as well as on the offensive and defensive boards. Nicholson wasn't blessed with the athleticism that most NBA players have, which hinders his ability to defend these faster, stronger players at a consistent rate.
While many believe that Nicholson needs to work on these deficiencies in order to become an able starting power forward, I just can't see him in that role. Even though these limitations could prevent him from coming a perennial All-Star in this league, they strike me as blessings in disguise for the Magic. Players who can come straight off the bench and provide an immediate scoring punch-- especially big men-- are quite valuable in today's game. Nicholson has given me reason to believe that he can be this "punch"; his brightest moments from last season encouraged ESPN writer David Thorpe to compare him to low-post aficionado Al Jefferson.
Orlando already has a a pair of able starting power forwards in Glen Davis and Tobias Harris, but what they lack is offensive firepower off of the bench. If his 29 point outburst against the Dominican Republic in the FIBA Americas Tournament was any indication, Nicholson could fulfill that role for Orlando for years to come.
The Canadian big man utilizes a myriad of impressive attributes in his potent offensive attack, most notably his craftiness and efficiency. Nicholson lived up to most of the hype coming from his biggest fans at St. Bonaventure this past season, where he was touted as one of the best offensive players in the country during his senior year in college.
To some degree, here's a play that sums up Nicholson's game nicely:
Nicholson does a decent job of establishing himself above the block on this play against a taller, stronger defender in Tyler Zeller. After receiving the entry pass, Nicholson sizes up his defender (Zeller) and proceeds to back the Cavs big man down until he gets just above the block. As Nicholson starts to turn to the basket, Alonzo Gee swings in as a help defender and cuts off number 44's path to the rim. The Magic forward does a beautiful job of maintaining his composure and patience by slipping the trap and finishing the play with a wide open hook in the lane.
Most rookies wouldn't handle this situation well-- their combination of inexperience and fear of making a mistake would lead to a disaster waiting to happen. Nicholson is much, much different in this respect than many of his counterparts. Nicholson's maturity separates him from most of the field, and this impressive attribute of his was recognized by NBA personalities around the country during his solid stretches of play.
On the opposite end of the spectrum-- the defensive side of the ball-- Nicholson often struggles to hold his own on the block. Nicholson's opponents shot 64.3 percent against him while in post-up situations-- a mark that is fairly lousy for NBA standards. Time and diligence in the weight room will aid him immensely in this area of the game, but Nicholson's physical makeup will never allow him to blossom into an elite NBA defender. When the opposition stretches Nicholson out to where he has to defend them on the perimeter, the results are usually nightmare-ish. His lack of foot speed and ability to cover ground in a timely manner are put on display every night he hits the court, and that's just something that will come with a one-way player.
These are just a few reasons why Nicholson just won't cut it as a starting power forward on a contending team-- but this doesn't mean that number 44 isn't a great asset to have. Whether he'll be a force off of the bench for years to come in the City Beautiful is an unknown as of now. If Magic GM Rob Hennigan decides to keep Uncle Drew, we'll have an exceptional role player who we can rely on in big games. However, Nicholson's trade value could rise exponentially if he continues to build on the solid foundation that he laid out last year. Since the beginning of this rebuilding process, I've said that the Magic should eventually make a James Harden-to-Houston like deal-- a trade that would send out multiple young, promising assets for a proven star. Whichever route Hennigan decides to take, Nicholson's worth will prove to be quite valuable. For now, let's just appreciate the player who has been compared to a guy who you'd play with at your local YMCA.
By: Jake Smith