Inside OSU basketball: Nelson needs to be aggressive
Published: Wednesday, January 16, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, January 16, 2013 01:01
Toward the end of my conversation with Oregon State guard Roberto Nelson early Monday evening, I posed the following question:
“Why do you not play as well against Pac-12 opponents as you do against nonconference opponents?”
Nelson’s response caught me a bit off guard.
“I scored less than 10 points once (eight against ASU), then what did I score the other two games, 18 and 15?”
I’ve talked with Nelson more over the past three years than any other OSU athlete, and this marked the first time he seemed irritated with a question to the point where he answered in a defensive manner.
It certainly wasn’t the laid-back, play-it-cool response I’m used to getting from the passive, 6-foot-4 junior.
And you know what?
I absolutely loved the push back, because passive Roberto needs to go.
If you read my work semi-regularly, you may know I think Nelson is OSU’s X-factor. You also may know I think Nelson is extremely talented, and I should add that I have an abundance of respect for the guy and I’m not knocking his play so far this season.
I’m just saying what most of Beaver Nation is thinking, and what Nelson’s coaches and teammates have been telling him: Get aggressive.
Shoot it when you’re open. Continue to attack the basket when you’re having success drawing fouls. Don’t be afraid to demand the ball.
“Coach [Craig Robinson] has been saying that me passing a lot is actually being selfish, and I felt like me shooting a lot is being selfish,” Nelson said.
Nelson, the Beavers’ leading scorer at 15.4 points per game, is as selfless as they come — Robinson has said he’s probably the only guy in the country who feels guilty about scoring 30 points in a game.
Normally, selflessness is a good thing.
But the Beavers need Nelson to be selfish.
At practice on Monday, Robinson scolded Nelson for not shooting an open shot numerous times. In one instance, Nelson pump-faked, got his defender in the air, then passed to an open Olaf Schaftenaar, who knocked down a three.
Robinson didn’t acknowledge Schaftenaar’s make, only telling Nelson sternly, “That should have been you.”
Nelson is third in the Pac-12 in 3-point field goal percentage (44.3 percent), but has attempted just five 3s in OSU’s last two games, and has attempted 37 fewer 3s than teammate Ahmad Starks on the season.
By his own admission, Nelson has played too passively the last couple of weeks — and that’s part of the reason why OSU has started Pac-12 play 0-3.
“I haven’t been as aggressive as I have been [in the past],” Nelson said of his performance in losses to Oregon, Arizona State and Arizona.
In those three losses, Nelson was aggressive early on — scoring nine points in the first 14:56 against Oregon, three points in the first 4:34 vs. ASU, five points in the first 6:06 vs. UA — only to disappear for large stretches thereafter. Which makes his numbers (18 points versus UO, 15 versus UA) a bit misleading.
Nelson’s recent mid-game scoring droughts are as follows:
• Against UO: From 4:36 of the first half to 1:16 of the second half (23:20 total) — three points (1-6 FG)
• Against ASU: From 15:24 of the first half to 1:31 of the second half (33:53 total) — one point (0-4 FG)
• Against UA: From 13:54 of the first half to 7:28 of the second half (26:26 total) — two points (1-4 FG)
By the time Nelson has reasserted himself, it’s been too late: 12 of his 41 points in those three losses came with less than two minutes left and OSU down by at least nine points.
All three games got away from OSU midway through the second half when Nelson wasn’t taking it upon himself to score.
“We’ve been really close in some of these games, where somebody needed to take over, and I haven’t been that guy, and [Robinson] thinks that can be me,” Nelson said. “He’s really been on me about that.”
Part of me wonders if Nelson truly believes he can be “the guy” when facing stiff
competition, which would explain his passiveness.
Though he scoffed at the question from the beginning of this column, the numbers suggest Nelson plays much better when the lights aren’t as bright.
In 31 career games versus nonconference opponents, Nelson has averaged 12.4 points per contest, reached double-figures 19 times and scored at least 20 points six times.
In 45 career games versus Pac-12 opponents, Nelson has averaged 8.4 points per contest, reached double-figures 18 times and scored at least 20 points once.
Another potential reason for Nelson’s passiveness?
He seems to get discouraged when his shots aren’t falling — as opposed to, say, Starks.
After a nonconference game earlier this season, Robinson said Nelson didn’t play very well because he missed a layup on the Beavers’ first possession and never fully recovered from that.
Nelson admitted to me that maybe this used to be the case “in the past, but now, if I want to be aggressive, I’ll come out and be aggressive and stay aggressive.”
Good, because a scorer’s job is to score.
“I’m going to start listening [to Robinson],” Nelson continued. “That’s what I want to hear, so I’m hyped about it.”
Nelson said all the right things on Monday.
Was it all an act, or is the passiveness really behind him?
Grady Garrett, managing editor