Our 5-part Saturday series continues with a look at the position battles heading into the Magic's Oct. 1 training camp.
Today: Point guard.
Ever since the Magic traded fading Steve Francis late in the 2006 season – former GM Otis Smith hoodwinking the New York Knicks – Jameer Nelson has not been challenged as the starter. The club obviously wants that to change at some juncture.
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Riding shotgun for years with Dwight Howard, Nelson enters his 10th season with the Magic as the team's longest-tenured player. He'll turn 32 in February.
If he finally hears footsteps, they are coming from a rookie trainee, Victor Oladipo.
The Magic selected him at No. 2 in the June draft, making Oladipo their highest pick since taking Howard at No. 1 in 2004. (Nelson also was selected that year, at No. 20 by the Denver Nuggets, and acquired by the Magic.)
If there was any doubt that the Magic were influenced by what Oklahoma City has done with Russell Westbrook – transitioning a dynamic athlete to point guard – they made their intentions clear in the summer league. They put Oladipo – a shooting guard at Indiana University – in charge of the offense.
Not surprisingly, the experiment played to mixed reviews.
Oladipo's aggressiveness was undermined by turnovers. The Magic will give him chances in Year 2 of this rebuild to position himself to succeed Nelson while they monitor Oklahoma State point guard Marcus Smart for the next draft.
Oladipo is everything that Jameer is not at this stage: Young, lightning fast, defensively adept and about five inches taller.
On the flip side, Jameer has everything that Oladipo lacks: Vast experience, teammates' trust and a reputation as a scorer.
Oladipo finished second in the Orlando summer league in scoring at 19.0 points per game in four outings, but shot just 37.5 percent. He filled the stat line, averaging 5.0 assists, 4.3 rebounds and 3.0 steals.
The intriguing takeaway: Oladipo got to the rim enough to average 10 free throws each game.
But Oladipo struggled making decisions under pressure and turned over the ball 19 times, nearly five miscues per game.
Vertically challenged at 5-11, Nelson has never been a natural fit as a conventional point guard.
He played just 56 games last season because of injuries, but averaged a career-high 7.4 assists while scoring 14.7 points per game with 2.8 turnovers. He slumped to 39 percent shooting. Nelson averaged a surprising career-high 35 minutes per game, a stat not likely to be repeated this season.
E'Twaun Moore will be battling Oladipo for playing time behind Nelson. Moore played in 76 games, making 21 starts. He averaged 7.8 points and 2.7 assists.
Nelson's critics, long frustrated with his turnover tendencies and defensive liabilities, will no doubt be following Oladipo's progress.
It's the perfect time for the Magic to enroll Oladipo in Point Guard 101, with Nelson as tutor.