Denton: Vucevic Making Strong Case to Play in All-Star's Rising Stars Challenge

By John Denton
January 9, 2013

DENVER – Still riding the wave of last week’s record-setting rebounding performance and continuing to string together one impressive performance after another, Orlando Magic center Nikola Vucevic is making a strong case to be picked to the NBA All-Star Rising Stars Challenge.

The game features the top rookies and second-year players and they are picked to the teams by balloting among the NBA’s assistant coaches. All-Star Weekend runs from Feb. 15-17 in Houston

Vucevic, a second-year pro who is in his first season with the Magic, has put up an impressive resume so far this season. Among second-year NBA players, he ranks first in rebounding (10.8 rpg.), first in double-doubles (16), second in field goal percentage (50.3 percent) and seventh in scoring (11.3 ppg.).

Vucevic, a native of Montenegro who has been a lifelong NBA fan, said it would be a dream come true for him to be a part of the NBA’s All-Star Weekend.

``It would be a huge honor for me. All of the best players in the NBA play in the All-Star Game and are a part of All-Star Weekend, and being in that Rookie-Sophomore Game would be huge for me,’’ Vucevic said. ``There are a lot of young, great players playing in that game. So I’d really like to make it.’’

The 22-year-old Vucevic snagged national headlines last week when he grabbed a Magic record 29 rebounds against the Miami Heat. That total broke the previous franchise record of 28 set by Shaquille O’Neal in 1993.

While many predicted the Magic would struggle in the interior to replace the traded Dwight Howard, Vucevic has helped steady the center position in Orlando by posting some gaudy rebounding numbers. He ranks seventh in the NBA in rebounding, he has 21 double-digit rebound games and he’s posted 16 double-doubles.

JOINING THE ELITE: Arron Afflalo is six years into his NBA career, but he continues to improve each season as evidenced by his increased scoring average each year.

In Afflalo’s mind there isn’t anything that other elite shooting guards in the NBA do that he can’t do just as well. He is desperate to join an elite class of shooting guards that includes Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, Joe Johnson and James Harden. Some of his best games this season have come against Bryant (30 points), Wade (28 points) and Johnson (19 points).

Afflalo entered Wednesday’s return to Denver – the city where he played for three seasons prior to an August trade to Orlando – having just completed the best nine-game stretch of his career. During that span of games, he averaged 22 points while turning in six 20-point efforts.

Afflalo’s last two coaches, Orlando’s Jacque Vaughn and Denver’s George Karl, think that the shooting guard will continue to improve for years to come.

``I wouldn’t bet against him (to become an elite player) because he’s a guy who has willed himself into the position that he’s in now,’’ Vaughn said. ``He’s made himself into the player that he is now and I would never bet against him.’’

Added Karl: ``Knowing Arron’s work ethic and a mental focus that is pretty demanding of himself, I think it could happen. It will be easier for him (to reach the elite status) out East. And if Orlando can get some wins on the board the recognition will come.’’

ETC: Because Monday’s game in Portland didn’t come on until 10 p.m. Eastern time, Jameer Nelson said most of his family didn’t get to watch his assist that made him the all-time assists leader in Magic history. Nelson fed Andrew Nicholson in the first quarter for a dunk to pass Scott Skiles as the Magic’s all-time leader in assists. Said Nelson: ``I asked my son if he watched the game and he said he didn’t. But he told me that everybody at school was talking about it to him. So that was pretty cool.’’ … Vaughn was asked if streaks – either of the winning or losing variety – weigh on a team’s collective psyche and he said he thought Orlando’s current skid would be a test for the Magic that would prove beneficial. Said Vaughn: ``I think a lot differently that folks sometimes. To me, this is great for the psyche to be able to fight adversity and see how you respond. It’s a true test of a man’s character, which is ultimately his destiny. That’s who you are. Life is what you make of it and this is an opportunity to forge our own destiny.’’ … Orlando will be off on Thursday and then practice on Friday in Los Angeles before playing the Clippers on Saturday afternoon at Staples Center. The team’s four-game, nine-day road trip concludes Monday night in Washington against the Wizards.

ORLANDOMAGIC.COM FEATURES: Big Accomplishment for Nelson

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