The Orlando Magic are not in the NBA's spotlight. Athletes like Arron Afflalo and Victor Oladipo get their share of media attention—but what about the unheralded guys who are important contributors? Today, we will highlight the most underrated Orlando Magic player.
Orlando fans, like all fans, show a lot of appreciation for every member on their team who plays hard. But from a league-wide perspective, there are always those who are at the center of attention, while others fall through the cracks.
In Oladipo, the Magic have a sensational rookie, in Afflalo, a veteran shooting guard who is having a career season. In Nikola Vucevic, they have a young, promising center who averages double-doubles during his nearly two years with the team.
And in Jameer Nelson, who has been consistent, if unspectacular, during his 10 campaigns in Florida, they have their most underrated player.
Nelson, the Leader
The point guard position comes with a lot of responsibility. Coaches want calm, yet daring guys who can facilitate. The ideal playmaker is athletic, experienced, tall enough to attack the rim and fast as lightning.
Nelson is experienced.
He never was an athletic phenomenon nor the fastest guy, and he rarely faces smaller opponents. But he has that certain assertiveness, an absolute necessity for the conductor of any offense, especially on such a young team.
The veteran's numbers are decent, but his leadership is the real reason why he is so important for this franchise.
The former NCAA AP Player of the Year leads by example, leaving it all on the court any given night. Sometimes his commitment comes at his health's expense, as reported by Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel.
The point guard's demeanor is above any doubt—as is his drive to win, despite two frustrating seasons in a row.
Nelson, the General
Over the course of his career, he has played almost 19,000 minutes, served a franchise-record 3,471 assists and contributed 8,156 points.
And he isn't done yet.
For the second season in a row, his assist rate is in the top 10 across the league.
An assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.40 is a sign of a player who takes good care of the ball. An assist-to-point ratio of 0.43 is an indication of someone who likes to get others involved first and foremost.
Both combined are what you wish for in your ball-handler.
At the same time, Nelson's three-point percentage of 37.6 over the course of nearly 10 seasons doesn't allow his man to back off, defending passing lanes. The ability to make shots from downtown is a very important weapon—even more so for an undersized guard.
It helps that he is not afraid to hurl his small frame at the big guys under the basket, either. In fact, more than 82 percent of his shots come from either beyond the arc or inside the paint.
All of that allows Jameer to better direct the game, with or without the ball.
Whenever he dribbles up the court, you can sense his awareness and alertness. He tries to find the open teammate—not necessarily for the immediate score but to increase the pressure on the opposing defense.
Each pass means a new angle, a new possibility to attack.
When the 6'0" guard doesn't handle the basketball, he makes sure to space the floor, giving others more room to operate. While every player has an impact on the offensive flow of the game—even without the ball—some don't realize it.
General Nelson is fully aware of his influence at all times.
Nelson, the Teacher
With so many young talents on the roster, veterans ideally take on the role of teachers.
Nelson excels at this job.
Not only does he provide the youngsters with lots of experience, he never uses his seniority to talk down to nor berate them. In many timeouts, you can see him giving his insight to others, explaining situations. And Jacque Vaughn is smart enough not to interfere in these moments.
And, maybe even more important, he leads by example. There isn't a play on which he gives up, nor a game he quits when being down by a large margin.
The one player benefiting the most from Jameer Nelson's expertise is Victor Oladipo.
Early in the season, the rookie had a tough time protecting the ball and leading the team when used at the 1. By now, his turnovers have decreased, and he looks more at ease taking charge and making the right decisions.
Nelson is also a great example of loyalty and team identity.
The Orlando Magic face the constant threat of losing players to a big-market team. They have lost Shaquille O'Neal and Dwight Howard to the Los Angeles Lakers, and fans' hearts would break to see competitors like Oladipo leave as well.
Nelson wants to retire in Orlando, and his mindset likely rubs off on his teammates.
No, that does not guarantee that some other player might not ask for a trade if he is unhappy. But it definitely is a good thing if one of the team leaders has such a positive attitude and openly shows his appreciation for the franchise.
While Nelson doesn't stand out, he is a very valuable asset for the Magic. Orlando's management is well aware of his importance. So are Coach Vaughn and many local fans.
The lack of hype around the league is a direct result of the guard's unspectacular style. In a media landscape craving exciting and athletic finishes, a player who has dunked just once in his 10 years of professional basketball hardly gets noticed.
His fundamentally sound game, however, earns him the respect of players and coaches throughout the NBA. His teammates respect him and appreciate his unselfishness.
Every squad needs guys who understand the team concept. Imagine a roster full of Stephen Jacksons and J.R. Smiths. While scorers are important, every unit needs someone who controls the general flow of the game.
Who do you think is the most underrated player?
Jameer Nelson fills this role perfectly.
He doesn't steal the headlines, and he doesn't need to. He enjoys making his teammates better, delivering crisp passes and letting them get the spectacular finish.
With increasing age, Nelson will become more important as a mentor. As discussed above, he seems comfortable with that part, even appreciative. Does anyone else have this certain feeling he will end up an NBA coach down the road?
For the time being, we can expect him to play efficiently for several years to come. And his loyalty allows Orlando's management to plan ahead, knowing it has a reliable playmaker for the foreseeable future.
Despite of all this, most NBA fans still vastly underrate him.
Nelson doesn't care.
You can follow @KurtJonke for more on the NBA in general and the Orlando Magic in particular.