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What to do with Jameer Nelson: Question of the morning

June 6, 2009 |  8:51 am

I had a great conversation with a basketball loving friend of mine Friday night about Orlando's Jameer Nelson, and how much he should be on the court right now for the Magic.  He agreed with some in the Orlando media that Stan Van Gundy screwed up an effective Magic chemistry by giving Nelson so much PT. Van Gundy himself said he probably played Nelson too much.  Rafer Alston spoke openly about the rotation change getting him out of rhythm. 

Personally, I saw a lot of value in what Nelson was doing, particularly in the early going.  He clearly still has the ability to get into the lane, and his passing was pretty crisp. Talking with another member of the LA media, he thought Nelson was the best player Orlando had on the court in the first half.  How much and when Nelson plays going forward is one of the lingering subplots for the Finals.  I'd get him out there more, because he's is the point guard on the Magic roster most capable of getting himself into the paint and forcing LA's bigs to respond.  That gives Howard easier looks, and could open up the perimeter as well. 

Friday afternoon after practice, a small media confab talked to Lakers assistant Brian Shaw about Nelson, and what the Lakers thought of his effort and how he could change the series.  As a staff, it seems they certainly think of Orlando's returning PG as a threat.

How do you think Orlando will counter what you guys did heading into Game 2?
"I think they'll try to speed the game up.  I think the numbers show that they're not as successful when they don't reach 100 points, so I think they will definitely try to speed the game up, which will open the game up for Howard as well as their shooters from outside.  I wouldn't be surprised at all if Jameer Nelson wasn't starting the game on Sunday.  He didn't show as much rust as a lot of people would think that he would.  He was able to get into the pockets and create shots for their guys that they just didn't knock down. At this point, I think once you commit to throwing off your lineup by putting him in there, now as an organization you say, "Okay, he made it through, he didn't get hurt.  We made this commitment to bring him back."  Now you kind of have to throw yourself all the way into it. So I wouldn't be surprised if he started and played the majority of the minutes at that position."

The Orlando media, or many in it at least, was critical of Stan Van Gundy for playing Nelson so much.  It sounds like you guys saw a lot of value in what Nelson did on the floor.
"When you look at the two games we played during the regular season, he was probably the main reason why they beat us in those games.  Howard, over the last couple of years, hasn't had really big games against us.  We feel like we understand how we need to play him.  The x-factor for them against us was Nelson.  So if you have an All Star guard that wants to come back and play and had success against us in the regular season?   So I don't blame Van Gundy or the organization for throwing him back in the mix.  If it were the other way around and one of our All Stars, Kobe or Pau, was out for four months and felt good enough to play, do you hold them out?  No, you let them play and live with it.  I don't second guess any part of the decision they made.

His biggest value to them is the ability to get into the lane?
"He was very effective when he first got into the game.  He got into the pockets and got them shots.  They're looking for more offense, and a way to open up the floor and speed up the game.  He's one guy who can definitely do that."

But what about that shot?  Coming back after four months?
"That's something we want to see as well.  We'll play him more as a playmaker, and see how his shot is falling.  It's hard to get into a rhythm of shooting that ball and knocking it down the way he was before he was injured, being out this long.  But you can also look at it the other way.  The entire time he's been out, that's probably the only thing he's been able to do since he's been recovering is shoot the ball.  He hasn't been able to do any contact, so his shot might be on right now.  But we want to see, and challenge him to make shots and try to keep him out of our paint, and we feel good about our chances if we can accomplish that."

It's not a perfect setup for Stan Van Gundy.  I understand Orlando was playing with great rhythm and confidence coming off the Boston and Cleveland series, but, particularly against the Cavs, they did it without dealing with the same length that gave them trouble in Game 1.  Orlando struggled to get inside, and without the fear of penetration the Lakers did a great job of running Magic players off the arc early, forcing them into more awkward shots.

Nor can you say that Nelson's presence is a cure all, since he/they didn't hit a lot of shots when Nelson was in, just as it was when Van Gundy went with Alston.  They shot 30% as a team- everyone was tossing bricks.  But in that four minute window when Nelson first entered the game, we saw what he can do to change the game. Orlando had 22 points in the paint in Game 1, and from my end it seemed like Nelson created maybe six or eight in that short burst.  That number has to improve if Orlando is going to crack LA's defense going forward.

I realize this isn't LA's problem per se, but it could be, since Nelson's inclusion/exclusion clearly impacts what the Lakers have to do defensively.  It does seem like as a coaching staff, they're prepping for Nelson to get more PT.  Seems smart. But if you were Stan Van Gundy, how would you play this one?  More PT for Nelson?  Less?  Take a chance?  Rely on the mix that got you this far?