There was no orientation period for Jameer Nelson.
The veteran point guard was signed, commuted to Los Angeles, given a jersey and tasked with running the New Orleans Pelicans' offense in crunch time, all within 24 hours.
While the commute (which took 10 hours) and the jersey (No. 1, Nelson prefers No. 14) caused some unforeseen headaches, the offense ran smoothly in his hands.
Nelson stemmed a furious Los Angeles Lakers rally thanks to precise playmaking and timely shooting, allowing the Pelicans to wrestle back the 21-point lead they had blown less than nine minutes earlier en route to a 119-112 win. Whether he was driving, cutting or directing passes to start ball movement, Nelson’s debut displayed everything the Pelicans desired when they signed the savvy 14-year veteran on Sunday.
“Coming in off the fly, literally, that's what veterans do,” DeMarcus Cousins said. “They know how to play the game. I think he plays the game the right way.”
While Nelson is not among the most athletic or fastest point guards in the NBA, but he is one of the most experienced and has built a reputation for reliably conducting efficient offenses. Anthony Davis said because Nelson hadn’t practiced, or hardly even warmed up with the Pelicans, the team simply relied on basic nomenclature used across the league and allowed Nelson to feel out the game situation.
It paid off. He directed the Pelicans on a crucial 11-0 run to seal their first win of the season, just a week after he was waived by the Denver Nuggets.
Nelson’s veteran knowledge will be on display again at 9 p.m. Tuesday, this time in his preferred No. 14 jersey, when the Pelicans face the Portland Trail Blazers in the second leg of a three-game road trip.
"I won't give myself a pat on the back for coming out and playing,” Nelson said. “The main thing was just going out on the court and getting ready. It's basketball, and it's still basketball wherever you're playing it.
"I've been in pretty much every situation on the court, so when I was out there, there was nothing that was going to startle or scare me."
That’s precisely what the Pelicans need during the next several weeks, awaiting the return of starting point guard Rajon Rondo, who is recovering from surgery on a core muscle injury. In his absence, New Orleans has struggled to find a suitable replacement to control the offensive rhythm, particularly when its ball movement bogs down.
While Davis and Cousins are putting up All-Star numbers through the first three games (both rank in the top six in scoring and top 12 in rebounding), the supporting cast has performed unevenly.
As the Lakers roared to a 31-6 run to grab a lead midway through the fourth quarter, the Pelicans offense stagnated. New Orleans missed six 3-pointers and committed four turnovers before Nelson re-entered the game with seven minutes remaining, triggering the clinching sequence in the Pelicans' favor.
It’s still not certain exactly which lineups Nelson will play in or if he’ll typically be featured in crunch time, but he’s another weapon in coach Alvin Gentry’s arsenal. It took just hours into his Pelicans tenure to put his value on display.
“He played great for us,” Davis said. “He made a ton of great plays (and) hit that big 3 down the stretch. When you've got a veteran point guard coming in and making plays for us, that's huge. Rondo was out, so he came in and did a great job of us. It's on to the next one, and we need him to continue to do that throughout this road trip, and when we get back home, do the same thing.”