Nikola Vucevic, Center
Contract Status: 2 years/ $24.5 million
2016-17 stats: 75 Games, 14.6 points, 10.4 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 46.8% FG, 30.7% 3PT, 66.9% FT
PER 36 stats: 75 games, 18.2 points, 13.0 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 46.8% FG, 30.7% 3PT, 66.9% FT
From the outset of last season, Nikola Vucevic seemed like the odd man out for the Orlando Magic. The team’s acquisition of Serge Ibaka seemed like a match made in heaven for Nikola Vucevic. The Magic doubled down on their need for rim protection by then signing Bismack Biyombo. After the Biyombo signing, rumors began to emerge that Orlando would be looking for a trade partner to send Vucevic. The tension intensified when Vucevic commented in a radio interview that he believed he deserved to be a starter. With Biyombo in line waiting behind him, Vucevic was forced to improve his defensive intensity and presence. Vucevic finished the season with the best defensive plus/minus for the team, while also averaging a double-double.
According to ESPN’s John Hollinger’s Player Efficiency Rating, he ranks 19th amongst Centers and 54th league wide at 19.19 — the highest rating for any Orlando Magic player. Other notable players in Vucevic’s range include Jeff Teague (19.24), Jabari Parker (19.15), and LaMarcus Aldridge(18.66).
Strengths of Nikola Vucevic
Nikola Vucevic’s strength is his offensive arsenal. Vucevic has a wide assortment of low post moves. He is one of the few centers in the NBA that a team can run an offense through on a consistent basis. In addition to his post play, Vucevic is one of the Magic’s most consistent mid-range shooters. Between distances of 10 feet and the three-point line, he averaged 42 percent. Vucevic is most effective when catching the ball at the elbow on a pick and roll scenario. Nikola Vucevic has even developed a consistent three-point shot from the top of the key. The development of Vucevic’s game into a “stretch five” was detailed by OrlandoMagic.com writer, Josh Cohen. While scoring may be his niche, Vucevic has began to earn a reputation as a very solid passer averaging nearly 3.0 a game. Regardless if he is operating from the post or the elbow, Vucevic has the court awareness to know where all his teammates are and find open shooters from beyond the arc.
Weaknesses of Nikola Vucevic
The biggest weakness of Nikola Vucevic is his rim protection and overall team defense. As a center, Vucevic’s presence is not immediately felt as opposing teams consistently drive to the rim and challenge him to block a shot attempt. As a seven-footer, he should be a deterrent or able to correct mistakes as the last line of defense but he simply does not have the athleticism to contest shot attempts at their highest points. He doesn’t have the agility and quickness to slide over in rotations on help defense or the explosiveness to challenge drives. The will power is visible but the tools are not. With so many athletic back courts in today’s NBA, it is essential for teams to have an “eraser” waiting down low in the paint. At this point, Nikola Vucevic is not and may never equate to a rim protector. With his defensive deficiencies often cause his offensive production to be overlooked. Vucevic improved slightly last season under coach Vogel’s philosophy, but his defensive play leaves much desired.
Areas of improvement
For the upcoming season, Vucevic’s first area of improvement needs to be his three-point shooting. While his defense is his greatest weakness there is only so much more he can do to remedy that situation. If Vucevic can become a real threat from the perimeter, the Orlando Magic offense changes completely. Vucevic has the ability to open floor spacing by pulling opposing centers out of the paint. In turn, that will allow Elfrid Payton to penetrate the rim easier in a one on one situation. Having to stay close to Vucevic on the perimeter gives Orlando a different dynamic for opponents to prepare scout and game plan. The NBA is moving in the direction of all positions being capable threats from behind the arch and Nikola Vucevic should willingly take that step next season. Vucevic will need to improve his defense even more or contribute more efficiently on offense.
2017-18 Season Expectations for the Orlando Magic
There are still questions pertaining to the starting position for Orlando. Should the team go offensive with Nikola Vucevic or defensive with Bismack Biyombo? Vucevic offers steady offense that is much needed but gives up too many easy scoring opportunities to the opposition. Frank Vogel along with the new front office are advocates for defense and athleticism, the two things Vucevic lacks.
The eastern conference may be down a bit this season after all of the movement this summer. The Orlando Magic might be able to make some noise and improve in the overall standings. If they do, Vucevic will be a big part of that success. Vucevic will improve his three-point consistency and become a player that teams try to take away or game plan for. If he can become a more reliable source of offense the Magic will find themselves in the playoff conversation.
Expect Nikola Vucevic to average a double-double and lead the Orlando Magic in player efficiency.
Projected 2017-18 position: Starting Center