Vucevic Looking to Get Offensive Rhythm Back

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By John Denton

Jan. 28, 2016

BOSTON – At times, Nikola Vucevic’s biggest strengths as a center – knocking down shots from 20-plus feet, using a quick release to get off catch-and-shoot jumpers and making decisive decisions in the post – work as negatives for the Orlando Magic.

To be sure, Vucevic is Orlando’s most productive and consistent player what with his team-high averages of 16.7 points, 8.8 rebounds and 1.1 blocks a game.

But because Vucevic can shoot from the outside, he sometimes strays too far from the basket to provide the Magic (20-24) the low-post threat that it so desperately needs.

And because Vucevic is so comfortable from the mid-range area, so efficient on pick-and-pop plays and not one to stop the ball movement with methodical moves in the post, it is rare that the 7-foot, 260-pound center gets fouled and sent to the free throw line – another important facet of the game that Orlando often needs during close games.

To his credit, Vucevic understands these things because of his high basketball IQ and his wilingness to help the Magic get their season back on track. When Orlando faces the Celtics (26-21) Friday night in Boston, Vucevic is vowing to make changes in how he operates in the Magic offense.

``I think offensively I haven’t been playing the way that I was in December,’’ said Vucevic, referring to one of the best stretches of his NBA career. ``I need to get back to having a good flow, mixing it up with post-ups, jumpers and face-ups. I need to get back to being more aggressive, not thinking so much and not so many jumpers, maybe.
``(In Thursday’s practice) I tried to work on it to get a better feel for it. When you go through the struggles, you’ve got to find a way out. I’ve been watching some tape to see what I can do to get back to what I was doing earlier (in the season).’’

Quite possibly no player is a better barometer of the Magic’s successes and failures than their franchise center. In December, when Orlando racked up a 10-win month for the first time in more than three years, Vucevic led the way with 19.4 points, 9.0 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 55.4 percent shooting. He was so efficient offensively (108.7 points per 100 possessions) and defensively (102.5 points per 100 possessions) that he had a plus-6.2 player rating.

However, in January, as the Magic’s ball movement has ground to a halt, the defensive struggles from last season have returned and the team’s confidence has eroded, it’s taken a toll on Vucevic’s effectiveness as well. Over the last 12 games – 11 of which have been losses for the Magic – Vucevic has averaged just 15.3 points and 8.9 rebounds while shooting just 44.2 percent from the floor. Also, his overall player rating has dropped to minus-13.1 so far in January.

``It’s tough for him because he’s at the top of a lot of people’s scouting reports and we have to find ways to make it easier for him,’’ Magic guard Victor Oladipo said. ``At times, it’s a little stressful for him when his jumper isn’t falling like he wants it to. But at the end of the day that will come for him. We’ve just got to make it easier with drives and dump-offs – little things like that. And we have to keep encouraging him and make sure he doesn’t put too much stress on himself.’’

Because Orlando has had increasingly more problems entering the ball to the post and swinging the ball from side to side, Vucevic has moved off the block of late in an attempt to create open shots for himself. Over the last 12 games, 93 of his 190 shot attempts (48.9 percent) have come from 10-24 feet away from the basket. In Orlando’s previous 32 games, Vucevic took just 45.7 percent of his shots outside of the lane.

Vucevic’s usually reliable jump shot was off the mark most of Tuesday night when the Magic lost 107-100 to the Bucks. For the game, he made just seven of 19 shots and 12 of those shots (with just makes) came on shots from 10-24 feet.

One of those misses came with 50 seconds to play and the Magic down one point when Vucevic misfired from 17 feet away with eight seconds left on the shot clock. Head coach Scott Skiles would have liked to seen Vucevic use his talents as a ball-handler and drive closer to the rim there in hopes that he might have drawn a foul.

``Because he can make shots from the perimeter, he has to find a balance because he can drive right by people,’’ Skiles said. ``The tape showed that (Milwaukee center Greg) Monroe was giving him his left hand and he could have driven left and possibly driven right by him. But, look, when you can score in the low-post, pick-and-pop and shoot and drive – any player who can do all three of those is always trying to find a balance. But, in general, because we don’t have a lot of post-up threats we’d like him to operate in the post and get us some baskets inside.’’

Vucevic said because of the way the Magic’s offense is based around ball and player movement, it will always be difficult for one player to dominate the scoring. But he knows that there are times that he needs to anchor himself into the post, demand the ball from his teammates and do what’s necessary to get a big basket for the Magic.
``I think I can do a better job than I did the last few games of making the right plays to try and help the team,’’ Vucevic said. ``It’s something I’ve looked at (on game footage) to try and get something going offensively and to try and get the team going as well.

``With the way we play, it has to come from us playing as a team,’’ Vucevic continued. ``But sometimes it’s good if you have one guy who takes the lead so that everybody else can follow. I can’t force it. I can’t just catch the ball at the high post and shoot and (mess) up the play. I have to get good position and get us a bucket. I can’t just (forget) everybody and go by myself. But out of plays when I’m open I have to make a good play. I haven’t been able to do that lately because I’ve been missing shots and not getting to the positions where I know I can score. So I have to take the lead and know that when I’m in good position I have to convert to help the team.’’

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