The Orlando Magic are in the midst of a rebuilding period, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have talented players competing at a high level. Nikola Vucevic is one of those players, and he’s quietly becoming one of the best centers in the NBA.
2013-14 Season Stats: 14.2 points, 11.0 rebounds, o.8 blocks, .507 FG%, .766 FT%, 18.85 PER
After an impressive “coming out” season in 2013-13, Vucevic steadily improved along the course of 2013-14. An overpowering rebounder and equally strong post scorer, Nikola showed why he’s the type of player that Orlando can build around. One of the best centers in the Eastern Conference, the 23-year-old from USC is making a name for himself in the Orlando sun.
When you look at Nikola’s stats from the past season, his impressive rebounding is what most jumps at you. He averaged 11.0 rebounds per game (eighth in the league) and a 19.5 rebound percentage (seventh in the league). His rebounding numbers did regress from the previous season, where he averaged 11.9 per contest. Vucevic has joined DeAndre Jordan, Andre Drummond, and Anthony Davis as some of the league’s youngsters leading the league in rebounds. Nikola only averaged 3.0 fouls per game, while continuing to be a force in the paint.
He shoots .766 at the line which, for a big man, isn’t a terrible number. Vucevic was a .507 field goal shooter overall, taking his shots strictly in the paint for the most part. Vucevic arguably has the highest upside of any player on Orlando (aside from Victor Oladipo) and he’s looking like the type of player that could be a building block in the paint for years to come.
Nikola’s best game of the season was arguably way back on Nov. 16 against the Los Angeles Clippers. In 28 minutes of play in a 98-90 win, Vucevic played like the future All-Star he is. He scored 30 points (season high) and pulled down an astounding 21 rebounds. He added in three assists, with one steal and one block. While those numbers are great on their own, what makes it even more impressive is the competition he played against; DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin, one of the best, and most terrifying, big man duos in the entire league. Nikola out-rebounded and out-scored both of them, and carried his team to the win.
Vucevic made some of the best centers in the league look silly at times, showing an incredible rebounding skills.
What comes up must come down, and so it does for Vucevic. One of the main knocks on Nikola this season would have to be his shot blocking, or lack thereof. He only blocked 0.8 shots per game, with a 2.0 block percentage. For a 6’10″ center, these numbers are well south of where they should be. He’s still a solid defensive center with 1.1 steals per game and a 103 defensive rating, but if he want’s to take the next step and become one of the true elite centers in the NBA, Nikola will need to become a stronger shot-blocker.
Aside from his blocking woes, Vucevic is statistically well rounded. Looking back at 2013-14, he did miss his fair share of games. He missed 25 to be exact. Now I don’t think anyone is saying that had be been in those 25 games, Orlando’s season would have ended differently than it did, but when he’s not on the floor, Orlando will suffer. Nikola appeared in 77 games the previous season, so he’s not an injury prone big. It could just be an isolated incident this season, but it’s certainly something to keep an eye on.
On Nov. 20 against the Miami Heat, Vucevic had arguably the worst game of his season. In 23 minutes of play, he went 2-for-7 for six points, and pulled down only six boards. He also failed to block a shot, and fouled out of the game. True, every player has a down night, but the Heat don’t exactly have the strongest paint presence. The Magic lost by 28 points, and part of it has to be due to Nikola’s poor showing.
Vucevic is starting to develop into a seriously talented player. An elite rebounder, with a strong offensive presence in the paint. At 23, seasons like the one that Nikola just had are incredibly good signs, and the future is bright for Orlando with him in the paint.
Season Grade: B
Shawn McFarland covers the Orlando Magic for HoopsHabit.com