On an Orlando Magic roster with numerous prospects, Andrew Nicholson has stood out as one of the top young players for the franchise. In only his rookie season, the power forward from St. Bonaventure has become a solid contributor off the bench, even stealing minutes from veteran big man Gustavo Ayón.
That was expected, however.
Coming into last summer's NBA draft, a majority of the basketball community considered the four-year collegiate player one of the safest picks in the draft. With a polished post-game, solid mid-range jumper and a sound basketball IQ, Nicholson was projected to be selected by a contender looking to bolster their bench.
The rebuilding Orlando Magic decided to take a chance on the now 23-year-old big man with the 19th overall selection.
With forwards Jared Sullinger, Terrence Jones and Perry Jones III still on the board, it was a bit surprising for the Magic to select a player considered to have little upside. Due to his lack of elite athleticism and lanky 6'9" frame, general managers and scouts saw the power forward only developing into a role player at best.
Hopefully, Andrew Nicholson's performance in his rookie campaign will change their opinions on his ceiling, though. Simply put, the Orlando Magic received exceptional value, considering where the power forward was selected.
Andrew Nicholson has a broad offensive arsenal, as the power forward is efficient around the basket and his range extends all the way out past the three-point line. However, coach Jacque Vaughn has limited exactly what he wants to see from his rookie big man.
Despite not being able to fully utilize his skill set, which isn't a bad plan for a young man still adapting to the NBA game, Nicholson has managed to find ways to contribute on offense. The big man is averaging over seven points in only 15 minutes per night on an astounding 54 percent shooting.
That is nearly a point every two minutes, which is exceptional for a player who doesn't truly have a consistent role on the rotation. Some nights, Nicholson has started in place of the formerly injured Glen Davis, while others the big man only sees time once the outcome has already been decided.
Coming into the league, nobody expected Andrew Nicholson to be a bruiser, effectively fighting for boards. His lanky 6'9" frame allows the opposition to push him around, but there is more to rebounding than just physicality.
There is a great deal of technique involved and Nicholson is beginning to catch on under the tutelage of coach Jacque Vaughn: “[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.”
Nicholson is only grabbing about three boards per night, but he averages 7.7 rebounds per contest per 36 minutes. That's some untapped potential that Vaughn has at his disposal.
Defense and Work Ethic
Two departments to Nicholson's game that are hard to document in statistics are his surprisingly disciplined defense and fantastic motor. While he may not play major minutes for the team, coach Vaughn knows what he can expect from the big man.
Rookies often are questioned in regards to their defense and work ethic. Those are two of the more difficult attributes to grasp, considering that the NBA schedule for a player is lengthy and grueling.
Final Early Performance Grade: A-
For the most part, this rookie class has been a bit of a disappointment as a whole. Anthony Davis, the first overall pick in the draft, hasn't contributed quite like many were expecting. Bradley Beal, Dion Waiters and Thomas Robinson have struggled and Damian Lillard has been the only true star out of this group.
However, Nicholson has been one of the few rookies proving to his franchise that he deserved to be drafted where he was selected. Once Nicholson's role grows, expect him to have some pretty impressive statistics, hopefully allowing Orlando to forget about a particular former Magic big man.