In an NBA world where having an elite point guard more than likely equals some form of success, the dominant big man is less in demand than ever before. Of course there are some such as DeAndre Jordan and Dwight Howard who still have enough talent to make you remember this was originally very much a tall man’s game. But this is the age of the lightning quick, freaky strong, pass first but also go for 25 points themselves kind of players. Which makes Orlando Magic center Nikola Vucevic an enigma for a variety of reasons. He has crazy potential, but in a position that is important but not what it once was, is that supposed ability worth sacrificing? It’s a question this team will have to answer sooner rather than later, so let’s see what he brought to the team this year.
What jumps out right away is the skill set that the Swiss national has. This season was his third in the NBA, and perhaps unsurprisingly he averaged a double-double. Except he also averaged a double-double last year, although this season brought a career high in points and only a slight decrease in rebounds (14.2 points and 11 rebounds). For a big man his handling is superb, and although his jump shot isn’t overly pretty or reliable, it could be one day. Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah stole many headlines this year for both his defensive intensity but also the way in which he expanded his offensive arsenal massively in Derrick Rose‘s absence. We’re not putting Vucevic on that level at all at this point, but the exciting thing is he could be one day. Even more appealing, the potential and growth of young players Victor Oladipo, Maurice Harkless and Tobias Harris has already begun. If they can turn into even half the players they are projected to be at this point, having a potential top 10 center to anchor the paint would be a devastating combination that would get this team back to the playoffs in a hurry. We’re getting ahead of ourselves here though, so let’s look at some of Vucevic’s drawbacks for this Orlando Magic team.
The red flag here is durability. Vucevic played in only 57 games this season, although he started all of them. Some may argue that this isn’t a terrible figure, but historically centers take longer to stay healthy and niggling injuries have a habit of hanging around longer than they would for other players. Being so large, they put areas like their knees and ankles under additional stress, creating these long term problems. Vucevic is by no means broken, but it is something worth keeping tabs on. After all, he can’t influence the game from the bench in a suit. His 3.4 fouls committed per contest could do with being contained a little as well. Not because he is in danger of being labelled a dirty player, but you can bet the majority of those fouls are contesting shots at the basket, which results in free throws and easy points for the opposition.
Returning to the things Vucevic really excels at, it is clear he was born to grab rebounds. Rebounding is an art form, and if you look at a player like Kevin Love position his body so as he is able to clean the glass at all times, it can actually be really entertaining to watch. Vucevic has some of those similar qualities. Rebounding is not glamorous, yet the way he gets after the ball is entertaining and great to see. In fact when he is on the court, Vucevic grabs 19.5 percent of all available rebounds, both on the offensive and defensive end. With many other glass eaters out there, knowing Vucevic can eradicate mistakes made by other players by gobbling up one-fifth of all available rebounds when he’s on the floor is reassuring for his teammates. His player efficiency rating of 18.8 (league average 15) is as high as it has ever been. Basically there is a lot to like here, and with the player entering the last year of his rookie deal, Orlando would want to be tying him down before the deadline next season. Some may think that is looking too far ahead, but this team can’t keep all of it’s young pieces if it hopes to bring some impact veterans into the fold as well as most expect them too.
This team can go in a variety of directions given the youthful roster and cap space available to them. They really should keep hold of Nikola Vucevic, he continues to get better and seems to have a good attitude as well. His upside is ridiculous yet he contributes in a big way for his team already. But as stated, centers aren’t the prized horses in the stable anymore, so it is not a certainty he will hang around. He could be devastating on a contending team however, just imagine what he could do for a small team like the Miami Heat for example. For now though he remains a Magic player after a season in which he grew better as a player quietly. Should there be a massive jump in production next season, don’t say you weren’t warned, this guy has got the tools to be special.