Denton: Vucevic Hopes to Reach New Heights This Season
By John Denton
Oct. 6, 2013
ORLANDO – One of the NBA’s true feel-good, surprise stories of last season, Orlando Magic center Nikola Vucevic has now reached the prove-it-again portion of his career.
But not only does the 7-foot Vucevic want to repeat last year’s record-setting season, he wants to go to higher plateaus and play even better. Better as in more than 46 double-doubles, better than the 18 15-rebound games and four 20-rebound games. Better as in being the next Magic center to be named to the NBA All-Star Game. And finally, better to help the Magic make major strides this season.
``That would be a dream come true to make the All-Star Game,’’ Vucevic said Saturday prior to the Magic’s fifth practice of training camp. ``That game is for the best players in this league and that would be huge for me. But I don’t think about that too much. My only goal this year is to help this team be a better team. Last year was a bitter season because we didn’t have a lot of wins. We don’t want to be a team that is known for losing. My main goal is to just make this team better this season.’’
The Magic were a team in transition last season, but Vucevic was surprisingly a model of consistency and excellence for the franchise. Surprising because Vucevic had rarely played a during his rookie season of 2011-12 in Philadelphia, and expectations weren’t exactly soaring when he was asked to replace the hole in the middle left by the defection of Dwight Howard.
All Vucevic did last season was finish second in the NBA in rebounding at 11.9 boards a game, trailing only Howard by a half-rebound a night. He shattered a nearly 20-year-old record set by Shaquille O’Neal for rebounds in a game with 29 last Dec. 31. And he was consistently solid by ranking third in the league in double-doubles.
Now, the Magic and Vucevic and the Magic want more, make that much more, from the center. They want him to demand the ball more in the post so that he can show off the work he put in this season to become a more skilled offensive player. They want him to deliver hard fouls at the rim, shed his mid-mannered persona and play with more of a nasty streak. And they want Vucevic to ooze the confidence that was evident late last season when he proved himself to be a force to be reckoned with.
``At the end of last year that was the most confident and comfortable he had been and he came back from the offseason knowing that it’s OK for him to get the ball down low to do something,’’ Magic coach Jacque Vaughn said. ``He’s had a good approach of being aggressive and trying to dunk the ball.’’
Magic injured power forward Glen ``Big Baby’’ Davis, who knows a thing or two about delivering a hard foul, said he wants to try and help Vucevic develop more of a nastiness to his game this season. Davis also feels that what Vucevic showed last season is just the tip of the iceberg and there is plenty more to come in the very near future.
``The more success that he’s going to have, the more he’ll turn into that monster for us,’’ Davis said. ``Everybody is going to key on him now and say, `Where is Nik?’ When things don’t go his way, there will be another level for Nik to get to. Nik took a leap by surprise last year and this season it won’t be by surprise. He’s going to have to create another personality to go over and beyond (what he accomplished last season). It’s about growing and he’s going to be a better player this year. I’m going to help him get there.’’
Vucevic, who was given the hero treatment this summer while back home in Montenegro, knows that he won’t be surprising opposing teams this season as he often did last season. And after grabbing 63 rebounds in three games against the Heat and hanging a 30-point, 20-rebound, five-assist performance on the Milwaukee Bucks late in the season, Vucevic will likely be high on opposing scouting reports now.
``Last year I kind of came out of nowhere and nobody expected me to do what I did, but this year they will know what I’m capable of watching me for a whole season,’’ Vucevic said. ``Now it’s on me to keep producing. One thing about this league is once you start playing well, they start paying attention to you more with their defenses. It’s going to be harder for me, but I have prepared hard this summer and I feel like I’m a better player.’’
And if he is significantly better, Vucevic could very well find himself in the NBA All-Star Game and the Magic could be a much improved team this season.
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