What does the future have in store for Jameer Nelson?
From perennial playoff contender to bottom-feeder, it's been a long season for the Orlando Magic. With a record of 18-54 and 10 games remaining on the schedule, one would think that the season is all but over. However, there are still some things the Magic can learn down the home stretch.
Orlando was eventually able to bounce back after the departure of Shaquille O'Neal in 1996. With a little patience and a little luck, they should be able to do so again—especially with Rob Hennigan as general manager.
And since they are in full rebuilding mode, these last few weeks of the season are just as crucial as any and can help influence management heading into the offseason.
While some teams are posturing for a better playoff position, the Magic are watching these last games closely and asking some questions in the process.
Not all of them can be answered in their entirety, but the final stretch can help clarify some things.
Will Afflalo be one-and-done in Orlando?
Arron Afflalo is Orlando's leading scorer and has been relatively consistent in that role all season, averaging 16.5 points per game on 43.9 percent shooting.
As the Magic finish up the season, keeping an eye on the team's scoring output will be of importance.
Determining whether or not there's enough offense without him might influence how management handles Afflalo during the offseason. With the full-fledged effort to get younger, he might be expendable.
Scheduled to make $7.5 million per year until 2016, it's not as if Afflalo is all that expensive for what he brings to the table. However, it's still cap space the Magic could use to go after better players in a few years.
The final 10 games of the season might help influence the decision on what to do with Afflalo if it hasn't already been decided internally.
Orlando must decide if they're commited on Nicholson.
Not that it's necessarily a bad thing, but the Magic seem to have a bit of a logjam when it comes to power forward. Glen Davis, Andrew Nicholson, Kyle O'Quinn and Tobias Harris have all been given the chance to start at least one game this season at the position.
Part of that can be attributed to head coach Jacque Vaughn just wanting to experiment with different lineups seeing as there isn't really anything to play for.
However, the other part of it stems from the organization being unsure of who the right guy for the position is.
For a while, it looked like it was Nicholson. The 19th overall selection in the 2012 NBA draft came off the bench early in the season and provided some solid production. Lately, that production—and playing time—seems more sporadic.
With Davis injured, O'Quinn and Harris have been seeing more minutes.
While Harris can certainly move up and play power forward if necessary, it's probably a better bet to make him the small forward of the future.
On the other hand, O'Quinn has played well over the past four games and—aside from Davis—probably has the best body suited for the position. It's hard to know what O'Quinn's ceiling is, though, and his game certainly isn't as refined as that of Nicholson.
Brian K. Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel tweeted the following earlier this month:
Big Baby Davis will be shopped this summer or before next trade deadline. Best move for retool and for Baby, with more losing up ahead.— Brian K. Schmitz (@MagicInsider) March 3, 2013
With Davis likely gone, the Magic need to play Nicholson and O'Quinn a lot over the next 10 games and decide which one—if either—is their man going forward.
Harkless has shown great potential. Now, he needs to work on his jumper.
Thanks to being blessed with great athleticism and agility, Moe Harkless is already on his way to become a very good player. There's no question that he has a lot to work on, though.
One of those areas is his mid-range jumper and three-point shot.
On the season, Harkless is shooting 46.9 percent from the field. That number would be great regardless, but when his lack of a jump shot is taken into consideration, it looks even better. Not to mention, his ability to finish at the rim has been outstanding at 62.4 percent (basketball-reference.com).
With Tobias Harris on the roster—likely as the small forward of the future—Harkless might have to transition to shooting guard in order to keep his minutes.
In order to do so, he'll need to be more consistent shooting the ball.
Allowing Harkless to finish out the season as the team's starting 2-guard might give the franchise an idea of whether or not he can play that role long-term.
Can Vucevic become a dominant offensive player?
Nik Vucevic has been a pleasant surprise for the Magic this season.
Stepping into the position Dwight Howard played for eight seasons is no easy task, but Vucevic has handled it well by averaging 12.4 points and 11.5 rebounds per game.
Wondering what his ceiling is offensively isn't a knock on his talents. It's a legitimate question.
Yes, he's had a great year. But what level of play can he reach?
Vucevic is still relatively raw when it comes to his game in the post. He's demonstrated signs of a jump hook and turnaround, but outside of that, he's still rather elementary on the low block.
Already possessing a solid mid-range jump shot and being a seven-footer makes Vucevic more valuable than most other players his size. Adding to the rest of his game offensively will further increase that value.
Vucevic has missed the last two games with a mild concussion, but it's expected he'll play at some point this season. And when he does, it's imperative that he gets a lot of touches in the paint and demonstrates what he can do outside of shooter jumpers.
He'll likely always be a strong rebounder, but the Magic need him to score a little better than he has. He's still young and there's plenty of time left, but it's important that the team knows what they can count on offensively.
Would the Magic consider trading their longest-tenured player?
Jameer Nelson is Orlando's longest-tenured player and brings strong leadership to the floor each and every night.
But at 31 years old with a contract through the 2014-15 season, Nelson doesn't exactly fit the youth movement that the Magic are trying to roll with.
That being said, the team doesn't have a great deal of depth at point guard.
E'Twaun Moore is probably better suited at shooting guard and Beno Udrih has a contract that's expiring at season's end. If they choose not to re-sign him, Nelson will be the only point guard on the roster.
While he's not getting any younger, Nelson is still a solid point guard.
Despite missing some games this season due to injury, Nelson is having one of the best seasons of his career. His 14.9 points per game are the second-highest of his career, while the 7.4 assists per game he's averaging are the most of his career by nearly one-and-a-half assists.
These increases might be somewhat attributed to an increase in minutes and an increase in responsibility, but he's showing that he can play at a level higher than he's shown most of his career.
Not to mention, trading Nelson now without a backup might not be wise.
Even if the Magic go the route of drafting a point guard in the draft, having Nelson around could prove beneficial in the long run as he can offer all of the team's young players valuable veteran advice.
Could Oklahoma State's Marcus Smart be playing in Amway Arena next season?
The 2013 NBA draft will be a crucial one for the Magic.
Should they go with a point guard to eventually replace Jameer Nelson? Should they draft a defensive big man like Nerlens Noel to offset some of Vucevic's weaknesses? Or maybe they should draft a scorer like Ben McLemore?
Obviously a lot still depends on who declares and who decides to return to school.
As the Magic finish up their 2012-13 campaign, they must closely assess their needs and begin picking a direction to go in this summer.
Point guard is the position that seems to be the biggest question mark for the future with the aging Nelson getting starts. While there are certainly other directions they could go in, point guard might be where they need to get younger.
The most recent mock draft from NBADraft.net has the Magic taking Noel, but previous ones have had them taking Oklahoma State's Smart.
If they wanted, they could even trade down and take someone like Michigan's Trey Burke.
Whatever the final decision is, there's a lot of assessments that still need to be made and many of them must occur over the next couple of weeks as the season draws to a close.