Dime Q&A: Jameer Nelson On What It Takes To Go From Good To Great

Two years ago, Jameer Nelson was coming off by far the best season of his career (16.7 PPG, 50% from the field, 45% from deep, All-Star berth) and the Orlando Magic had advanced all the way to the NBA Finals. Now the team is moving in the wrong direction, going from the Eastern Conference Finals (2010) to the first round (2011).

As the Magic floor general nears 30 years old (birthday is in February), and with Dwight Howard‘s future up in the air, a likely shortened season also figures to be the most important of Nelson’s career.

A few weeks ago, I spent the day out at Reebok Headquarters in Canton, Mass. and got to watch some full-court games and go through cross-training workouts with not just Nelson, but John Wall, Ramon Sessions, Isaiah Thomas and four high school standouts from the Reebok Breakout Challenge.

During my time with Nelson, we talked about his summer routine in Philadelphia, the Magic’s dip in the standings and his favorite spots to eat.

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Dime: Talk about the event. It seemed like you guys were having a lot of fun with those kids.
Jameer Nelson: Yeah, we are having a lot of fun. One thing you have to understand is we are doing what we love to do and that’s play basketball. All of the rest of the NBA guys that are here are very fortunate to be in the position that we’re in, giving back a little knowledge and showing these kids the ropes and the things we’ve learned and just interacting with them.

Dime: Do you have a routine every summer or does your offseason differ on certain things?
JN: Well I continue to use my same routine. It’s been working so far for me so there’s no need to change it. If it’s not broke, there’s no need to change it or whatever.

Dime: Where do you usually stay? Around Philly?
JN: Yeah, I stay in the Philadelphia area. Work out with my guy who taught me how to shoot. His name is Matt Brady. He’s a coach at James Madison. He taught me how to shoot. He was my assistant coach in college and each summer he comes and continues to work with me. He never really has to tweak anything because like I said, he taught me how to shoot. But it’s just to see if everything is still working right (laughs).

Dime: You guys made a run to the Finals two years ago, but now the last couple of years you guys have slipped a little bit. Is there any explanation for that?
JN: Well the year after that we lost to the Celtics in the conference finals. They were a better team. The better team won. Last season, I don’t think we gave ourselves enough time and chances to gel. We made an in-season trade which was major. Any time you do that, it’s tough because you got new guys coming in for a new team, but you don’t really understand the aspect of coming to a new city. Everything is new for those guys. We kinda started all over and basically had to go back to training camp in the middle of the season.

There was a stretch we were playing for about two weeks without plays. People don’t know that outside of us.

Dime: You see it with a lot of teams… right now you might have the Bulls and the Thunder and the Grizzlies, people assume in three years they’re gonna be so much better than they are right now. But is it really hard to keep improving every year as a team?
JN: Well, it’s hard… it’s harder to go from being a good team to a great team. It’s easier going from being a bad team to a good team because you have so much more room to improve. You look at Jason and his team this year, they were always a good team. They didn’t get over that hump. They couldn’t get over that hump, but they figured out a way to get over that hump to win a championship and that’s what veteran teams do. They figure out ways to go from being a good team to a great team. We’re still a good team. We had an early exit this year but we’re still a good team. We still have a lot of pieces that work for us.

Dime: Is there anything specifically you guys need or is it something else? You guys have the talent…
JN: We just have to all buy in and believe in one another, and that’s from the best guy to the last guy on the bench. We have to instill confidence in one another and just wanna run through a wall for each other. If we can accomplish that goal right there, I think guys will play a lot harder. Guys do there job of just being who they are as a player and everything will click better.

Dime: As far as your game goes, do you have any specific moves or go-to moves? Anything that you really rely on?
JN: My instincts. I just take what the defense gives me. I’m comfortable going both ways and capable of going both ways. I guess I don’t really have a favorite move. I’ve got a move to set guys up in certain situations because as a point guard you gotta get the ball in certain spots. But for the most part, in terms of me scoring, it’s whenever my opportunity comes.

Dime: Was it hard to develop those instincts as a point guard?
JN: I just think that’s natural. As a point guard, if you can’t play off your instincts, you’re not a point guard. I’m a score-first point guard but at the same time can run the team.

Dime: So you think the strongest part of your game is scoring and breaking people down?
JN: Well if I’m a threat, it allows my teammates to have it easier. Being that I have the ball in my hands, I have to set those guys up more and like I said look for my team but also look for my own because if I’m not a threat out there, the other team is just gonna be sagging off me and not even worried about me. It makes it tougher on your team.

Dime: Can you talk about Orlando as a city. What are some of the places you frequent a lot?
JN: I’m a restaurant guy. I like going to different restaurants so one of my favorite restaurants is Emeril’s. The chef, he has a restaurant in town and I always go there. They’re great. I recommend it to anybody. It got voted one of the best restaurants there.

Dime: What type of food?
JN: A lot of seafood. I’m a seafood guy so they got that seafood. I like spicy food and everything is pretty much spicy… peppers and all that. It’s a good restaurant. Anybody that gets the chance to go should go.

Dime: You see all of these summer leagues and Pro-Ams. How does the talent in Philly compare to some of the other big cities.
JN: Well we have a lot of talent in Philly. It just… the one thing is we have to get better with our leagues to be honest with you. They were really good. People were coming from out of town. But it seems like most of the Philly guys are going other places to play now. If we kept our guys in Philly to play, it’d be much better.

How does Philadelphia compare in talent to other cities?

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