Orlando Magic: Nikola Vucevic Doing Just Fine In Dwight Howard’s Spot


Replacing a player who was considered to be one of the five best in the league and was the face of basketball in his city for almost a decade is not an easy thing to do.

That’s why Nikola Vucevic had a tough road ahead of him when he became the starting center for the Orlando Magic this season, filling in the role played by Dwight Howard from 2006-12. Even if Howard had begun to wear out his welcome by the time he was done with the Magic, he still left them with a lot of great memories and it wasn’t going to be easy for Vucevic to take that role over.

Luckily, Vucevic has done better than most would’ve expected and is quickly establishing himself as one of the top centers in the league. Vucevic displayed a fair amount of potential as a bench player for the Philadelphia 76ers during his rookie year.

Still, there was no way of knowing how he would adapt to playing more minutes, or how he would play in a system that was lacking any true stars and was looking to him to be one of the leaders in the frontcourt. Vucevic has responded by playing far better than he did with the Sixers and looking like someone who could make multiple All-Star Games before his career is through.

For one thing, the man is an absolute beast when it comes to rebounds. He’s currently putting up 11.1 per game, which is good for third in the league, trailing only Anderson Varejao and Zach Randolph. The most memorable display of Vucevic’s considerable rebounding talents came in a game against the Miami Heat, in which he grabbed an astonishing 29 boards, exposing the Heat’s poor rebounding and helping to take what should have been a blowout into overtime.

The Magic would end up losing that game, but Vucevic’s impact was undeniable. When it was all said and done, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade were probably sitting in the locker room saying, “Wow, that dude is good!

Vucevic’s play has steadily improved as the season has progressed. Early on, he quickly established his presence on the glass, but struggled to put points on the board. He’d put up 10 or even 15 one night and the next, you’d barely see him attempt any shots. Lately, however, Vucevic has not been shy about asserting himself in the Magic’s offense.

He’s scored in double digits in 12 consecutive games and 10 of those games were double-doubles. Any fear that Vucevic would be a one-dimensional center who could rebound but not score has been firmly put to rest.

Not only has he been scoring a lot, but he’s been extremely efficient about it. His shooting percentage for the year is a solid .518 and he’s connected on at least half of his field goal attempts in each of the past 10 games, often going well beyond that. His percentage would likely be higher if not for a rough start from the field.

As the season has gone, Vucevic has grown increasingly comfortable in the Magic’s offense and as a result, he’s gotten much better at picking his spots. As Vucevic’s career progresses, I expect him to become even more efficient and routinely rank near the top of the league in field-goal percentage.

By the time he reaches his prime, he could be doing something similar to what Tyson Chandler is giving the New York Knicks right now. But who knows, he might even become better than that. His ceiling is that high.

No player, no matter how talented, will be able to make fans forget about Dwight Howard, but Nikola Vucevic’s considerably talents have made the adjustment process a lot easier for Magic fans.

For years, the Magic had the best center in the league, now they have a rising young star who isn’t too far why from being able to hang with Marc Gasol and Joakim Noah among the most talented players at the five spot. It’s nice to see a young player catch on so quickly, especially on a team that really needed it.

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