Denton: Nik & Drew Arrive for All-Star Weekend, Pumped About Opportunity
By John Denton
February 14, 2013
ORLANDO – At some point on Friday night, when Orlando Magic standouts Nikola Vucevic and Andrew Nicholson take the floor – quite possibly facing off against one another – head coach Jacque Vaughn will likely puff out his chest and smile with approval.
The happiness stems from the dramatic growth that both Vucevic and Nicholson have made this season, jumps that allowed them to be selected to play in the BBVA Rising Stars Challenge at the NBA All-Star Game in Houston.
The happiness will also sprout from the fact that the Magic successfully uncovered a couple of gems in Vucevic (via the Dwight Howard trade) and Nicholson (via last June’s NBA Draft).
And there will also be happiness from Vaughn because Vucevic and Nicholson both embody everything that the Magic organization is looking for in young blossoming players. Their work ethic, desire to improve and basketball smarts should make them fixtures of the franchise for years to come.
``For our organization, that will be a great moment,’’ Vaughn said of Vucevic and Nicholson’s Friday night appearance in the all-star exhibition. ``They are two quality individuals who are representing us. They’ll go to Houston and share the characteristics of the kind of guys we want in our locker room. So for me that’s the most important thing, those guys being out there and having on Magic jerseys.’’
The Rising Stars Challenge pits second-year players and rookies divided up on two different teams. Vucevic, Orlando’s 7-foot rebounding machine, will play for Team Chuck, captained by TNT analyst and NBA legend Charles Barkley. Nicholson was chosen to replace the injured Andre Drummond and he will suit up for Team Shaq, which will be captained by Shaquille O’Neal.
That, of course, poses the possibility that the two Magic players could be guarding one another at some point in the game. Because all-star games often tend to be showcases for dribble-happy point guards and lob-a-thons for small forwards, Vuecevic and Nicholson have already concocted a good-natured plan to ensure that each one of them gets at least one shot.
``We already made a deal,’’ Vucevic said. ``If he guards me or I guard him, we let each other score because we’re not going to get the ball probably a lot. We’re big men, and it’s more of a guard game. But we’ve already made a deal. I’ve got to let him score once, and he has to let me score once, and we go from there after that.’’
Added Nicholson: ``It’ll be pretty fun. We go up against each other in practice all the time, so it’d definitely be pretty exciting to do that on a stage as big as that.’’ Vucevic has certainly shined on the big stage as a starter this season in Orlando. After playing only sparingly as a rookie last season in Philadelphia, little was known of his skills heading into this season.
Remarkably, he has morphed into being one of the Magic’s most consistent players. It wasn’t until Wednesday’s loss to Atlanta that Vucevic’s streak of 30 straight games with at least nine rebounds came to an end. He set the franchise record on Dec. 31 against Miami with 29 rebounds and he is tied for second in the NBA with 11.5 rebounds a game. And he has more double-doubles this season (29) than Howard (26) in Los Angeles.
Vucevic, himself, is somewhat surprised at the tremendous strides that he has made this season. He’s always had confidence in his abilities, and said the chance given to him by the Magic to play big minutes has helped him flourish. He said during his down times away from basketball it sometimes hits him the leaps and bounds that his game has grown in the past few months.
``I think about it because obviously I’ve made some huge steps from last year,’’ said the native of Montenegro. ``I always think too about what I can do to get better. I think about what I did to get from where I was to where I am now and how I can get even better going forward.’’
Nicholson, the 19th pick in last June’s draft out of St. Bonaventure, has given the Magic a steady low-post presence in the absence of Glen ``Big Baby’’ Davis (fractured foot). He’s made major strides in his game of late, scoring 21 points against Cleveland last week and another 14 versus Portland on Sunday. He said getting a chance to shine in the NBA’s Rising Stars Challenge is a tribute to the hard work he’s put in and the growth he’s made.
``It will be actually really cool to play in this game and it will be a blessing for me to play on a big stage like this,’’ Nicholson said. ``I’ve grown as a player on and off the court. The good thing is that I’m still growing. I’ll keep working to reach the peak of my potential. … I have a lot of people to thank for helping me get to this level.’’
One of those people, undoubtedly, is Vaughn, and the coach will be beaming with pride when Orlando’s two promising players hit the floor Friday night.
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