Magic Develop Nicholson Slowly But Surely
In four years at St. Bonaventure, Andrew Nicholson emerged as one of the most versatile and efficient scoring big men in college basketball. Range out to the three-point line combined with a back to the basket and a face-up game in the post gave Nicholson a rare skillset at the collegiate level. This past summer, Nicholson was one of the oldest players in the draft and considered to be more NBA-ready than many of his peers, but the Orlando Magic’s new rookie head coach Jacque Vaughn has his own philosophy about how best to develop rookies. Vaughn wants to keep the pressure off and put Nicholson in a position to succeed on a nightly basis.
“It’s different playing 18 minutes a game or 25 minutes a game or 35 minutes a game and no rookie is ready to play 35 minutes a game,” Vaughn said. “It is just as simple as that. They haven’t played that many games. They haven’t played that many minutes. The minutes [Nicholson] has given us have been great. He continues to get better and I will keep stressing that we will try to put him in a position to do well and not put any added burden on him. Trying to play [Nicholson] 35 minutes, even if he could, wouldn’t be smart, it is too long of a year.”
Surprisingly, Nicholson agrees with his coach. The rookie understands it’s a long season and that he has a lot to learn. Playing over 20 minutes one night and less than 10 the next hasn’t fazed Nicholson, and he knows Vaughn is just looking out for his best interests.
“It is going pretty well. I am just taking it game by game and getting better every day,” Nicholson said. “It is 82 games compared to 30, so [Coach Vaughn] is doing the right thing. He rests some guys some nights, plays the other [guys]. We need everyone on the team to get through this long season anyway.”
“It is a long year, 82 games for a guy from St. Bonaventure,” Vaughn said. “Some days we have to ask how he is feeling, we ask a lot of him. He is to the gym earlier, he stays after and he is trying to be the best professional he can be. Sometimes as a coach I have to sense how tired is Andrew Nicholson and is he getting overwhelmed and it’s my job as a coach to look at those things.”
Nicholson has been doing the right things to have a successful rookie season. He has been putting in the work on his body and using his strengths from college. In the 14.8 minutes per game that Vaughn has let him average, Nicholson is scoring 7.4 points on 52 percent shooting and grabbing 3.2 boards.
“I just keep doing what I do, just like how I did in college,” Nicholson said. “Be patient and let the game come to you. I just shoot whenever I am open. I can shoot from outside, I can shoot inside.”
However, the former college three-point threat hasn’t shot even one from deep in the NBA and with good reason. The Magic have excellent three-point shooting and Nicholson ‘s strength is closer to the basket.
“I haven’t taken a three yet,” Nicholson said. “We have J.J. Redick, so I don’t need to take threes. Just focus on your strengths and weaknesses and I am better down low, so I have more opportunities to score down there than shooting the three.”
One area that Vaughn has asked Nicholson to work on this season is his rebounding. Players are bigger and stronger in the NBA and the 6’9.5 Nicholson is focused on getting better at it.
“[There is] a little bit more technique [to rebounding],” Nicholson said. “The guys are bigger and stronger and that’s about it. I am still getting better at it. I am not there yet, but I am still getting better.”
It has been a good experience for Nicholson and the rest of the Magic so far this season. With a record of 12-14, the Magic are outperforming expectations around the league and Vaughn has lived up to expectations as a player’s coach who can lead the team through the rebuilding process of the post-Dwight Howard era.
“We just have a good group of guys who are willing to cooperate and listen to each other,” Nicholson said. “[Vaughn] is a great coach. He knows us. It feels like we are all in sync and that is what really helps us. We are just playing hard and taking it game by game.”
Vaughn has been bringing Nicholson along slowly but surely during his rookie season. Even with Glen Davis injured and Nicholson inserted into the starting lineup recently, Vaughn has been cautious with his minutes. So far it has been hard to argue with the results. Nicholson has showcased his ability to operate effectively in the post and contribute to an overachieving team in limited minutes. The 23-year-old is off to a good start in his NBA career.