The rookie power forward hit some nifty jump hooks. He threw down some thunderous dunks. And, best of all from his perspective, he led the Orlando Magic to a 92-88 win over the Brooklyn Nets in the 2012 AirTran Airways Orlando Pro Summer League opener Monday.
"I think I did relatively well," Nicholson said. "I just played my game. I just used my versatility and my length."
Nicholson scored 24 points, collected 12 rebounds and blocked two shots.
He also emerged as a go-to option down the stretch. With the score tied 86-86 in the final minute, he hit a short hook in the lane as he was fouled. He hit the ensuing free throw, and Orlando never trailed again.
The Magic used the 19th overall pick in last month's draft to select Nicholson out of St. Bonaventure. Some draft analysts worried that it would take some time for Nicholson to adjust to the faster pace of the NBA game because he hails from the Atlantic 10 instead of a power conference. But on Monday, with league general managers and scouts and coaches looking on, he looked comfortable.
He hit his first basket on a right-handed jump hook from 10 feet. That's his go-to move because he has long arms to go along with his 6-foot-9 frame.
"When he extends up for those little jump hooks it's tough for people to get to it," said Mark Price, the Magic's summer-league head coach. "For a kid his age, he's got extremely good footwork — up-and-unders, pivoting underneath — and he also has the ability to step out. If you leave him open, he can knock down 15- to 18-foot jump shots."
"He's got a lot of upside, and he hasn't even figured everything out yet."
To be sure, Nicholson has a ways to go, especially on the defensive end of the court. He committed six fouls Monday.
Although he's listed at 250 pounds, he needs to add muscle to hold his own against physical NBA power forwards.
But he can improve there. He only needs to look at Magic teammate Justin Harper as a guide. When Harper arrived as a rookie last year, he weighed 225 pounds, but Harper now weighs 240 pounds and looks more explosive.
Harper was one of the Magic's bright spots Monday, scoring 15 points on 6-of-9 shooting.
Kyle O'Quinn, the 6-foot-10 rookie big man whom the Magic drafted 49th overall, also impressed. O'Quinn scored 16 points, grabbed four rebounds and ran the floor well.
Nicholson seemed to take the day in stride. Asked by reporters about how he performed, he kept his answers brief and modest. But he lit up when he was asked about how well O'Quinn played.
Magic general manager Rob Hennigan said one of the reasons he drafted Nicholson was Nicholson's humility.
Nicholson insisted he didn't feel any butterflies as tipoff approached Monday.
"I wasn't really nervous," Nicholson said. "I don't really get nervous easily. But I just saw it as another basketball game. We've been practicing for the whole week, so we're prepared."
Nicholson certainly played as if he's prepared.
It was an auspicious beginning.
"You see the skill level that 'Drew has offensively," Price said. "And he hasn't even figured things out yet, so there's a lot of upside there."
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