Scaletta’s Summer Top 100 is a ranking of returning NBA players. For a full explanation of our methodology, read our intro.
Nikola Vucevic watched his area of the court get a whole lot more crowded this summer, as the Orlando Magic traded for Serge Ibaka, then added Bismack Biyombo and Jeff Green in free agency. Along with Aaron Gordon, that’s pretty crowded frontcourt.
While some have pondered the possibility that Vooch gets traded as a result of the glut, Zach Lowe of ESPN argues otherwise:
The potential playmaking void is one reason the Magic are in no rush to trade Vucevic despite the logjam, league sources say. They might need his post game, and especially his passing. Last season, Vucevic quietly morphed into one of the league’s best passing centers. He assisted on 16 percent of Orlando’s hoops while on the floor, a tidy number for a big man; only five centers racked up more potential assists, per SportVU tracking data.
So, how could things play out for the big man this upcoming season?
Vucevic is in some ways the best of the group and in others, the least attractive according to the modern standards of what teams are looking for in a big man. He doesn’t have three-point range and he’s not a rim protector, but he does have a decent jump shot. He’s also a strong rebounder.
How the whole frontcourt works together will determine things. But Lowe’s point is valid; Vucevic’s ability to post up is too much to lose for an offense with limited playmaking. Because of that, his touches could go up, not down, in spite of the crowding.
Should the Magic be in playoff contention at the break, he could be an All-Star.
Where he could get hurt is that other combinations could be better than him individually. For example, Biyombo and Ibaka could offer an inside-outside scoring combination and lethal defense in tandem. While neither is better than Vucevic, the combination of the two could be better than Vucevic and any other individual player because of fit. While a certain degree of touches and minutes are safe, this could leave Vucevic out of closing lineups.
Vucevic doesn’t have three-point range, but he does have range out to the three-point line. Enough, in fact, that you wonder why he’s not trying to do more to develop a long-range shot, as evidenced by his shot chart from NBA.com:
“I have been working a lot on it this summer,” Vucevic said. “It has been going pretty well. My confidence from 3-point shot has been growing. I think it is something I can add to my game.
“Actually even here in practice with the national team, I have been stepping out and knocking down some threes. I think that is something that can only help my game.
“Obviously I never want to make it where that is what I only do. But I think it can add as a huge weapon because I think I have added to my driving as well. If I can step out to the three and have the big guy come all the way and go by him or make plays for others or finish at the rim or shoot the three, it is another weapon I can add. I will keep working on it so when I come to Orlando, I can shoot some 3s.”
According to Basketball-Reference.com, Vooch had a 26.8 usage percentage, 15.9 assist percentage and 15.7 total rebound percentage, making him just one of two players (DeMarcus Cousins) to hit 25/15/15. Those numbers reflect his versatility as a big man.
Vucevic’s defense is suspect. His Defensive Real Plus-Minus of +0.95 is not as high as it sounds when you consider that he was just 45th out of 70 centers. His -.59 points saved per game at the rim was better than only 12 big men, according to Seth Partnow’s rim protection stats at Nylon Calculus. The Magic defense was 1.8 points per 100 possessions better while he was on the bench, per NBA.com.
It’s worth mentioning, though, that in spite of those unimpressive numbers, he has improved. And with a defensive presence like Ibaka playing beside him, he could improve even more next year. He won’t be an elite rim protector, but he could get to the point of not being a defensive liability.