Rob Hennigan must be furious.
The Orlando Magic finished 23-59, once again dooming Orlando to the lottery and giving them a 15.6% chance at securing the number one overall pick in this star-stacked draft. Yes, I’m sure Hennigan is inconsolable.
There wasn’t much different about the Magic this year compared to last year. In fact, they were eerily static in terms of overall offensive and defensive progression. So maybe Hennigan should be slightly worried after all. Fielding and developing a young team at the expense of winning is all well and good, except when the development part doesn’t occur. For Andrew Nicholson, the complete opposite happened.
Andrew Nicholson’s game, at least on offense (his defense is another story) is aesthetically pleasing in a throwback sort of way. His footwork in the post is terrific and the form on his jump shot is smooth. But the beauty of his mechanics belie his overall ineffective game. Nicholson only averaged 5.7 points and 3.4 rebounds per game. While that’s not too dramatic of a drop from last year, in which he averaged nearly eight points per game, his overall efficiency fell off a cliff.
Nicholson posted a respectable 15.1 PER his rookie season with a .557 true shooting percentage. Those numbers plummeted this year to 9.9 and .489, respectively. The sophomore’s regression in efficiency can at least be partially attributed to his shot selection. After shooting zero threes in his rookie season, Nicholson launched 89 – all but eight from the corner – this year, connecting on 28 for a 31.5% clip. That’s promising progress, especially for a forward who needs to extend his range, and somewhat explains the dip in his true shooting percentage.
Yet that alone can’t account for Nicholson’s overall struggles. He’s still allergic to passing, posting a staggeringly bad 3.5 assist percentage, somehow worse than last year’s 6.1 percent. He lowered his turnovers, which is all well and good, but he only passed the ball 13.4 times per game, according to the NBA’s player tracking data. That’s by far the worst number on the Magic, and near the bottom of the 371 players that have average more than 15 minutes per game.
The truly frightening number is this: -5.8. That’s Nicholson’s net rating. Nicholson’s defense is, on its best day, nothing to write home about, but the Magic are actually nearly three points per 100 possessions better defensively with him on the court. Surprisingly, despite Nicholson’s vast array of offensive moves, he’s an albatross to the Magic’s offense. The Magic score 96.5 points per 100 possessions with Nicholson on the court, worse than their 99.3 overall offensive rating, which is already second-worst in the league. When Nicholson is on the bench, the number rises to a more respectable 100.5. If Nicholson is already a poor defender and now significantly hurts the Magic on offense as well, how can Jacque Vaughn justify playing him? (To which basketball twitter replies: well, they’re tanking, he should play him more).
Other players stagnated or regressed as well, such as Tobias Harris and Nikola Vucevic. But their issues stemmed mainly from injury, and the rust that accompanies recovery. Maurice Harkless was also a victim of regression (though some of his efficiency numbers took an ice bump), but it was nowhere near as dramatic as Nicholson’s dip.
Acquiring yet another high lottery pick is terrific, but it won’t be long before Hennigan and the Magic have to decide which among the glut of their young prospects stays and leaves. If Nicholson’s relapse proves to be more than a sophomore slump, he may find himself as less of a building block and more of a trading chip.
Statistical support provided by NBA.com/stats.