Once Emmanuel Mudiay went down with a back injury in late-January, Jameer Nelson ascended to the Nuggets’ starting point guard spot and never relinquished that role. As a starter, Nelson averaged 10.8 points and six assists per contest while shooting 41.5 percent from the three-point line with a usage percentage of just 15.1 percent.
Nelson molded himself into the ideal offensive point guard that could be a sniper from three-point range as well as be a secondary facilitator to play alongside Nikola Jokic.
Nelson ended up finishing the season averaging 9.2 points, 2.6 rebounds, and 5.1 assists in 27.3 minutes per game.
The 35-year-old also shot 44.4 percent from the field and 38.8 percent from three-point distance to go with 71.4 percent from the charity stripe.
What grade would you give Nelson’s season?
Harrison Wind (@NBAWind): A
Joel Rush (@NuggetsDenJoel): B
Kalen Deremo (@PrincePickaxe): B
T.J. McBride (@BSN_McBride): A
Harrison: Nelson wore a lot of hats for the Nuggets this year. For most of the season he was a steady hand at point guard that Denver desperately needed, and at times he was an easy scapegoat for the Nuggets’ struggles at the end of games. But when looking back on the season, Nelson was incredibly valuable for Denver’s young group. He was a constant voice in the locker room and then led by example on the court. The Nuggets simply wouldn’t have been in the race for the eighth seed if it wasn’t for Nelson’s second half of the season when he shot 40.0 percent from three and dished out 5.6 assists to just 1.5 turnovers per game after the All-Star break.
Joel: Nelson got a bad rap from a lot of Nuggets fans, primarily out of frustration that he was getting minutes they wanted to see allotted to Jamal Murray. But it is unfair to fault him for playing when he was called upon to do so, and the fact of the matter is that he was Denver’s best point guard, leading the team in both assists per game and per possession, finishing third in net rating, and scoring more efficiently than either Murray or Mudiay. And while his defense and late game management were certainly flawed, the Nuggets wouldn’t have come close to the playoffs without him.
Kalen: Nelson was a scapegoat for the Nuggets’ struggles due to his brazen late-game shot selection and mediocre defense, but fans forget Nelson was never brought to Denver to make big shots or stop Russell Westbrook. If you view his season through the prism of his role and not his weaknesses it’s hard not to count it as a success.
T.J.: Nelson had a renaissance season for Denver. It was his best year since he was a member of the Orlando Magic and he led the Nuggets offense, which was the best in the league since December 15th, in assists as he locked down the starting point guard role and shot lights out from three-point distance. Without Nelson, it is hard to see Denver competing for a playoff spot last April.
What aspect of Nelson’s game did he improve on most this season?
Harrison: Nelson’s stats were up across the board this season. Shooting percentages, assists, steals, etc. And the veteran was likely Denver’s third or fourth most important player over the entire year. Nelson improved everywhere and it will be interesting to see how his role, which will likely move from a starting one to a backup one behind Murray, adjusts and how Nelson adjusts with it.
Joel: Shooting efficiency. Nelson struggled badly from the field in 2015-16, shooting career lows in both 2-pointers (.429) and 3-pointers (.299). After improving these to .489 and .388 respectively this season, his resulting true shooting percentage of .544 was his highest since 2010-11 when he was still in the midst of his heyday in Orlando
Kalen: His on-court impact. Nelson played the most minutes of his post-Orlando itinerancy and posted his second best field-goal percentage and best 3-point percentage since his 2010-11 season with the Magic. Sure he took some bad shots and couldn’t move very fast, but then again not many veterans do at age 35.
T.J.: Allowing Jokic to be Jokic. Nelson is a 12-year veteran point guard who has been to the NBA Finals and was an All-Star in 2009. When the Nugget’s decided that a goofy 22-year-old Serbian center was going to run the offense Nelson could have pushed back and fought for more touches. For a point guard with Nelson’s resume to willfully fit into an offensive system that has a point-center as the catalyst deserves more recognition than it has received.
What does Nelson need to work on this upcoming offseason?
Harrison: Can Nelson play a backup (or maybe third point guard role) with the Nuggets behind one, or maybe two young lead guards? That’s the question he’ll have to answer this summer. Nelson is too guard to be a third point guard and a backup role behind Murray suits him, but it could be tough to go from a defined role as a starter to a reserve after the success he saw last season.
Joel: Pick-and-rolls with Plumlee. It seems safe to assume at this point that Murray is likely to be the Nuggets’ starting point guard. If Nelson is playing a backup role, he and Plumlee will likely share a lot of on-court minutes, and establishing the pick-and-roll as their go-to set off the bench would give Denver a formidable second line of attack.
Kalen: Nelson has one more year left on his current contract and is set to get paid $5 million. Given the Nuggets will likely play Murray at point guard next year and have Mudiay on the books for a few more seasons, it’s difficult to see Nelson having much of an impact moving forward. Therefore, it’d be nice to see him continue to mentor the Nuggets’ youth until he’s gone.
T.J.: Finding out how he can benefit the Nuggets from the bench. Nelson struggled when not in the starting lineup last season posting averages of just 7.4 points, 1.9 rebounds, and 4.2 assists with a 50.9 true shooting percentage, which is almost six full percentage points worse than when he is starting. It seems very likely that Murray is the starting point guard for Denver next season so Nelson will need to find a way to be a productive player off of the bench.