It's sad, because Nelson is clearly talented. He has a great mobile frame for a big man that would allow him to thrive in a game that has become all about speed. He can body up with the best bigs in the conference, and he always gives teams his best shot.
But Nelson could never get his act together as a Bruin. He was spot on in one game then totally non-existent in another. His passions tended to fuel great runs that harkened to the best UCLA had to offer in past decades. His funks led to some of the worst efforts in team play you'd ever see. Take a look at his scoring production from last season and you'll see his total inconsistency from game-to-game.
That looks like the movement of some investment bank stock. These shouldn't be the numbers of your UCLA leading big man.
Nelson was supposed to be a leader for these new era of Bruins, someone to take UCLA on their way. But he couldn't have been a worse match for a leadership position. During Nelson's time in Westwood, the team seemed to reflect his volatile personality. They had a disastrous 2009-10 campaign in his sophomore season, recovered to return to the tournament in 2010-11, and seemed on the poise for absolute catastrophe this year.
Nelson was a polarizing figure. It was clear he worked hard, but he always seemed like he was detached from his teammates and didn't know how to interact with them properly. It's tough enough in the pros to deal with a player who generates such emotions. In college it's nearly impossible, particularly with other guys still developing. On-court chemistry is crucial, and UCLA never looked like a team from the first tip to the final buzzer.
Even though Nelson is gone, UCLA's troubles are far from over. Josh Smith continues to struggle, and his conditioning issues will probably not remedied until the offseason. The Wear twins can produce offensively, but that's about all they've proven they can do. Anthony Stover and Brendan Lane have great potential, but neither has come close to seeing regular action, and it's hard to see them immediately coming in and playing int he current rotation.
Nelson wasn't a great Bruin or a bad one. He was an inconsistent one, just like his team was. It remains to be seen whether UCLA basketball and Coach Howland can shed that persona now that he's gone.