Andrew Nicholson, just like plenty of players on this current Magic squad, has a major flaw this season. Defense.Orlando as a team is ranked 25th in the league in defensive efficiency. But ineptitude in guarding even on a mediocre level has been extra evident with Andrew. The problem for Andrew is that Harkless and Harris actually guard quite well and that's a main reason why Jacque favors Maurice and Tobias over 'Drew. Even O'Quinn is receiving more burn. Nicholson has played in the majority of his games so far this rookie season, even starting 27 of them going into this Cleveland game on Sunday, but Andrew doesn't exactly scream 'starting PF' in anyone's mind. Nicholson has displayed more blocking potency than I could ever imagine, but swatting a few shots won't prevent you from getting lit up on a nightly basis.
According to SynergySports, Nicholson is giving up 0.97 points per possession and 1.27 points per possession when defending post-ups. Synergy's numbers do not look at help side defense or team defensive numbers, but in the other area of one-on-one defense post players need to be good at, Nicholson struggles too. He gives up 1.12 points per possession when guarding the roll man in pick and rolls.
The Canadian has been buried on Jacque Vaughn's bench over the past few months, sometimes not getting up from it during a game because of a lack of defensive ability. Afflalo going down for the remainder of the season has given Andrew a massive boost in playing time, starting the past few contests as Coach Vaughn is experimenting with Harkless playing shooting guard and Tobias manning the small forward spot. Nicholson's extra on-court time is out of necessity instead of want. Orlando is basically utilizing an 8-man rotation as they limp to the finish line.
The good news for the man out of St. Bonaventure's is that there's no shame in potentially being the first big man off the bench next season. Well what about Al Harrington and Glen Davis? Better news for Nicholson, because it's quite apparent (to me anyway) that both Al and Big Baby will be dealt away this summer or by next year's trade deadline. So while we know Andrew may never have the athleticism or foot speed to be a starter, it's encouraging that Coach Vaughn has praised Nicholson for making lengthy strides in progressing his one-on-one defense. Andrew has a place in Orlando now and in the future if he can continue shooting over fifty percent from the field and 80% at the free throw line.
It's beyond obvious that GM Rob Hennigan is clearing as much cap space as possible for the 2014 offseason. The way to ensure that is dumping the contracts of Glen and Al. Both those guys are solid locker room presences and in-game contributors. They'll be hot commodities for championship competing squads to acquire on the market in exchange for an expiring contract of a worthless player and maybe a draft pick in return. It's a formula that in my eyes is definitely potent for success. So far, no reasonable being has had a single substantial negative critique for what Hennigan is planning.
For now though, Andrew needs to utilize the summertime to continue developing his already pristine post-up game, gain consistency on his jumper, improve his footwork, grow his defensive IQ, and work on on-court communication. Filmwork research and repetition goes a long way. His defensive help instincts are surprisingly solid, but can be better if he just talked more with his teammates. Nicholson is a legitimate NBA professional and a steal from last year's draft. Selected 19th overall yet constantly touted as a top 5 rookie. Always efficient in the post against unknowns and hall-of-famers. Andrew just doesn't have the ceiling or overall versatility that Harkless and Harris already have. There's no shame in that. There's no shame in being the first big off the bench that provides instant offense.