Since his recent return from injury, Orlando Magic center Nikola Vucevic has slowly been working himself back up to game speed. He has gone about his business quietly and for the most part on less minutes, but his presence is once more beginning to be felt. Before going down he was flirting with the idea of being an All-Star according to some and had each conference had to have a center as a starter his case would have greatly improved. Despite the fact that ship has well and truly sailed, the Magic will be delighted to have their young center back and not just for the rebounds he gobbles up on a nightly basis.
Fans who are in any way serious about the NBA and watch it quite frequently will know that there exists a specific type of player that every team needs to be great. Oftentimes they are not even the third option on the team in terms of who to go to and spend massive portions of the regular season invisible (to all but the die hard fans who key in to what they do). Perhaps the best example of this in seasons gone by has been Luol Deng. Now with the Cleveland Cavaliers and struggling to adapt to a team in disarray, for years he went about his business with the Chicago Bulls and people hardly noticed. Look down the stat sheet though, and on any given night he was giving you 17 points, seven rebounds and six assists. All-Star numbers in other words. Eventually people caught on and Deng did get back-to-back All-Star nods, but that reward came after years of relative obscurity. Kawhi Leonard of the San Antonio Spurs is a more recent member of this club. He plays so well and consistently that people forget he is there, but at all times he is working away for the good of the team, putting up serious numbers while playing selflessly. You see where this is going, because Vucevic can be that guy for the Magic. In fact, he kind of already is. His play is a little different in that already he has received great praise from others for his mature play for somebody so young. He has also had more than a couple of monster games as well, but for the most part he has just gone about his business while helping the team.
It is quite rare to have a center effect the game in this way, but that is the player Vucevic is becoming. Opponents are focusing on the likes of Arron Afflalo, Victor Oladipo and Tobias Harris, and rightly so, but this allows Vucevic to really punish them inside the paint. He is also one of the most skilled big men in the league already, his shooting touch, post moves and even hook shot all looking quite effortless as he pulls them off. Despite his injury layoff he is still averaging a double-double for the season so far, and this is a stat that has probably escaped or gone unnoticed by a lot of people, but that is the type of player Vucevic is quickly turning into. It is a little too early to say he is indispensable to this team right now, but whatever noise Orlando makes going forward, you can bet Vucevic will be at the heart of all that is good about this team.
Nikola Vucevic will continue to effect this team in a number of different ways, all of which will be good for the Magic. He is slowly becoming that unseen force that causes damage to opponents on both end of the court, a rare commodity in this league and one with a fairly hefty price tag that will only increase as Vucevic becomes a better and more experienced player. Of course with his consistently great play, this cover could be blown as he morphs into a full on star in time, and that is no bad thing either. Although the Magic have only won once since his return, his minutes have steadily increased in each contest, going from 15 to 35 in a relatively short space of time. With Vucevic back to his best and teams sleeping on the lottery bound Magic, expect the center to crush some unsuspecting teams. Not with brute force, but with the sneaky skill and guile he is quickly becoming known for. This is the Nikola Vucevic effect, and it is only going to get stronger.