The Orlando Magic found the replacement for arguably the best player in franchise history in just one season, as they established themselves as the clear-cut winner of the four-team Dwight Howard trade in Aug. 2012. In his first season with the Magic, this replacement finished second in rebounding only to Howard and was a hidden gem coming over from the Philadelphia 76ers.
In case you didn’t know, Nikola Vucevic is not a hidden gem anymore – he’s becoming a household name.
He’s generated one of league’s best nicknames as well: “Vucci Mane,” a spin off of the rapper who calls himself Gucci Mane.
It’s still very early in the 2013-2014 season, but so far Vucevic has proven himself against other big name players and is playing like the top center in the NBA.
In his most recent game on Wednesday, he dominated the front line of Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan to the tune of 30 points and 21 rebounds, the second time in his career he’s reached 30 and 20 in a single game. This was against a Los Angeles Clippers team that’s supposed to be a championship contender, a Doc Rivers team, and Vucevic put on a Superman-type of performance. He’s also the only other player besides Kevin Love to have multiple 20 point, 15 rebound games this season.
He dropped 19 points and 12 rebounds against another contender in Brooklyn, matching up against Brook Lopez, who is a top center and All-Star from last season. Against the resurging Minnesota Timberwolves, he scored 22 points with 16 boards against Nikola Pekovic, an emerging young center in his own right.
Vucevic is largely the reason the Magic have started the season 3-2, a season in which they’re supposed to be blown out by teams like the Clippers and the Nets. His numbers have improved all across the board from last season, and he’s currently second on the Magic in scoring. He also boasts the highest PER amongst all centers in the league. Evidenced by the game on Wednesday, teams will now have to start preparing for his offensive game in the scouting report.
A lot of his improvements have come on the offensive end. He plays hard, added some size in the offseason, and he goes after every rebound. Let’s just call it what it is: Vucevic exposed Griffin and Jordan’s toughness on the inside as they could not keep him off the boards or stop him one-on-one. That could not be said about Vucevic’s game last year but he’s got an array of post moves now, including fade away jumpers, improved footwork, and most importantly, he’s a big man who can hit free throws (75% this season). We’ve got to give credit to the Magic’s coaching staff for the improvements in the 23-year-old’s game.
What’s next for Vucevic? If he stays consistent, the All-Star game will come calling. The Magic will be more competitive than expected and they’ll be faced with an interesting dilemma. If the goal is to land a top draft pick, they’ll have to trade one of the veterans (Jameer Nelson or Arron Afflalo?) and give more playing time to younger players in the rotation.
One thing we do know is that Magic general manager Rob Hennigan always has a plan, evidenced by his acquisition of Vucevic, his decision to pass on Andrew Bynum, and the selection of Victor Oladipo, who is going to be a stud.
Another thing we know: Vucci Mane is playing like the league’s best center, or like the rapper Gucci Mane would say, “VUCCCCCCI!”
No longer an afterthought, no longer a hidden gem, let’s see how the rest of the league prepares for Vucevic now.
Topics: Nikola Vucevic, Nikola Vucevic 30 Points 21 Rebounds, Nikola Vucevic Playing Like The League's Best Center, Nikola Vucevic Playing Like The NBA's Best Center, Nikola Vucevic Vs Los Angeles Clippers