Vucevic Deserves All-Star Recognition

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By John Denton
Dec. 30, 2015

ORLANDO – Asked on Monday night if he would be willing to campaign for Nikola Vucevic to be named to the Eastern Conference all-star team, Orlando Magic coach Scott Skiles said he shouldn’t have to make a case for the standout center.

After all, the statistics speak for themselves as they relate to the all-around dominance that Vucevic has played with thus far. Another factor that should serve as a big benefit for Vucevic – his Magic are one of the most improved teams in the NBA this season, and the 7-footer is a big reason why.

Vucevic heads into Orlando’s game against Brooklyn tonight at the Amway Center leading a Magic team that is 12-5 since Nov. 25, the best record in the Eastern Conference during that time. In his last six games – all of them 20-point performances – Vucevic has averaged 23.7 point, 9.2 rebounds and 3.8 assists while shooting 58.8 percent from the floor. Making it even more impressive, Vucevic has accomplished it all against the likes of Dwight Howard (21 points), Anthony Davis (28 points), Hassan Whiteside (22 points), Al Horford (20 points), Robin Lopez (26 points) and Mason Plumlee (25 points).

Likes Skiles said, it’s pretty obvious why Vucevic should be in the conversation to make his first NBA All-Star Game.

``I don’t think it should be anything that’s begged for. It should be fairly obvious – and I’m sure that it is to the coaches in the East – that he is a very, very high-level player,’’ Skiles said. ``When that time comes (to name the all-star teams) it’s going to depend on our record at that time and how he continues to play. But as I said, all of his talents are on display almost every night right now, and it’s so obvious.’’

What’s also obvious is how Vucevic has improved his all-around game. To wit:

  • Vucevic has become a much more patient player in the post, scoring on foes when they single cover him and passing the ball out to open teammates when they dare to double-team him. He tied a career high in assists in Monday’s rout of New Orleans with seven and he had six assists two nights earlier against Miami. He has 11 games in December alone with three-or-more assists.

  • Vucevic, 25, is trying to become just the second player in Magic history to average at least 17 points, nine rebounds and three assists over a month. Shaquille O’Neal was the other, doing that four times in 1994-95 and 1995-96. Heading into tonight’s final game of the month, Vucevic has made himself a strong candidate to win the East’s Player of the Month award, averaging 19.4 points, 9.0 rebounds and 3.5 assists in December while shooting 55.8 percent from the floor.

  • Vucevic is scoring efficiently from spots all over the floor, making him even more difficult to cover. He’s shooting 59.3 percent on turnaround jumpers, 54.4 percent on hook shots, 52.7 percent on shots from 8-16 feet, 47.6 percent on shots from 16-24 feet and even 52.2 percent on tip-in attempts.

  • Pressed to be a more well-rounded player this season by Skiles, Vucevic has responded by averaging career highs in assists (2.8) and blocked shots (1.0) while shooting a personal best (53.3 percent) from the floor. He also has 13 double-doubles, six of them coming in December.

    Said teammate Tobias Harris following Vucevic’s 28-point, eight-rebound, seven-assist demolition of New Orleans on Monday: ``He’s showing everything. He’s playing really well and really efficient and we’re feeding him. We know when we get him the basketball that he can get us a bucket. There are times in games when he bails us out and that’s what big-time players do. He’s been stepping up.’’

    Added guard Evan Fournier, Vucevic’s closest friend on the Magic: ``They’ve had no answer for Vooch. Right hand, left hand, drives to the basket – he’s playing at a really high level. He was our leading scorer and passer (on Monday night). That’s pretty impressive.’’

    Vucevic has been quick to credit his teammates for his success, pointing out that the Magic’s 25.3 assists a game since Dec. 13 (third-most in the NBA) are setting him up for open looks and single coverage. And finally, Vucevic said, his efforts are helping the Magic win games – something that is sure to play heavily into Vucevic’s bid to make his first all-star game.

    ``Especially now with the fact that we’re winning that makes (his individual success) even better,’’ Vucevic said. ``I’ve had nights where I put up a lot of big numbers. But we weren’t winning, so it didn’t feel as good. This year, I think the fact that we’re winning makes everything much better.’’

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