LOS ANGELES – Anthony Davis thought for a second, trying to guess how long Jameer Nelson has been in the NBA. Eventually Davis decided to go straight to an expert on the subject – Nelson himself, who was sitting a few lockers over in Staples Center.
“Meer, how many years you got?” Davis wondered.
“Fourteen,” Nelson quickly responded.
New Orleans’ four-time All-Star power forward was only a sixth-grader when Nelson made his NBA debut on Nov. 3, 2004. Fast forward to Sunday, and the cagey veteran point guard was instrumental in Davis and the Pelicans (1-2) posting their first victory of the 2017-18 campaign. Officially signed earlier in the day, Nelson arrived in Los Angeles at 9 a.m., but was in uniform and ready to contribute at tip-off 9.5 hours later. The Philadelphia native, who traveled cross-country to join his new team, nailed a back-breaking three-pointer with 1:26 left, helping the Pelicans quell a Lakers second-half rally. Nelson finished with five key points and five assists in 24 minutes of action, part of a 119-112 verdict.
“He played great for us. Made a ton of great plays,” Davis said. “Hit that big three down the stretch. When you have a veteran point guard coming in making plays like that, it’s huge.
“That’s that veteran experience. Fourteen years of experience and knowing the game.”
With Rajon Rondo sidelined 4-6 weeks and missing the early portion of the 82-game regular season, New Orleans needed help at point guard, necessitating the move to sign Nelson, who for the first time in his lengthy career was not with an NBA team on Opening Night.
The 6-foot, 190-pounder was waived by Denver last week, but had been working out in his hometown in order to stay in shape. Although he said his legs felt “terrible” during the first half of Sunday’s game, he was fine as the night progressed and was trusted by the Pelicans in crunch time.
“He’s a vet. He’s a hooper,” Pelicans guard Jrue Holiday said. “That’s what he does. Coming through hitting big shots and making the right plays. He came in, controlled the game, hit a big shot, threw it into Boogie (Cousins) and (Davis).”
Nelson said after Sunday’s win that he’s already seen just about every possible situation in his pro career, but the circumstances of his New Orleans debut were quite unusual. He didn’t have nearly enough time to learn the team’s playbook, so the Pelicans ran basic actions while he was on the floor. He was able to adapt quickly, based on his array of prior knowledge and experience.
“I really can’t,” Nelson said, laughing, when asked to describe his process of preparing for Sunday’s game. “I didn’t have much preparation. My travel was kind of crazy. Coach put me in the game; I’m not a guy who’s going to make excuses. Was I ready to play? Not before the game, but once I got out there, it’s still basketball, no matter where you’re playing or who you’re playing with.”
“To come in off the fly, literally, that’s what veterans do,” Cousins said, alluding to Nelson’s flight that crossed three time zones. “They know how to play the game. He plays the right way. I look forward to his impact for the remainder of the season.”
Nelson practiced for the first time Monday with his new teammates at the University of Portland, a chance to soak up more understanding of what the Pelicans do on both ends of the floor. He had one head start, in that the team’s new offensive philosophy is similar to what Nelson’s Denver team used in 2016-17, with the common thread being assistant coach Chris Finch. It’s still too early to know exactly what Nelson’s role will be over the final 70-plus games with the Pelicans, but the 35-year-old said he’ll be prepared for whatever is thrown at him.
“There is nothing on the court that is going to startle or scare me,” he said of being able to adjust to changes. “Anything is possible. You can’t really put your finger on what’s going to happen, why it’s happening, when it’s going to happen. Just be ready.”