Nikola Vucevic’s Strengths & Top Performances in 2019-20 Before Hiatus

by Josh Cohen

Floor Spacing

Last season, Nikola Vucevic took 231 3-pointers and made 84 of them. This year so far in just 54 games, he has attempted 249 shots from beyond the arc, knocking down 82 of them.

Even though the Orlando Magic’s starting center has been erratic with his outside shooting, spending as much time as he has on the perimeter has opened up more driving lanes for Markelle Fultz, Evan Fournier and others. Having a five-man who can stretch the floor creates more space for guards to attack and deny opposing bigs from protecting the basket.

Playmaking/Decision Making

From Feb. 10 until the league’s stoppage, the Magic had the NBA’s No. 1 offense, averaging 120.8 points and 29.1 assists per game during this span. Vucevic’s playmaking was a big reason for that. Only the Denver Nuggets’ Nikola Jokic and arguably the Miami Heat’s Bam Adebayo are better passing centers right now than Orlando’s 7-footer, who flirted with a few triple-doubles and averaged 4.3 assists in his last 15 games.

Whether it’s him finding teammates in high-low action, kicking out to shooters from the low post or swinging the ball around the perimeter, Vucevic’s decision making has been sharp all season.

Only the Indiana Pacers’ Domantas Sabonis, who has appeared in eight more games than the Magic’s 29-year-old, has recorded more assists from the paint than Vucevic, who has 28 of them. The other three in the top five are Adebayo, the Philadelphia 76ers’ Ben Simmons and the Cleveland Cavaliers’ Larry Nance Jr.

Something very underrated about his game this season is his low turnover rate. Vucevic is averaging just 1.4 turnovers per game, his lowest mark since his rookie season.

Smart Defense

Although he’s not known for his defense, Vucevic is very astute on that end of the floor. More important than anything else is that he avoids committing silly fouls – which is overlooked way too much. Vucevic is averaging 2.2 fouls per game. To compare: Cleveland’s Andre Drummond averaged 3.5 prior to the hiatus, Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid 3.4, Karl-Anthony Towns 3.3, the Utah Jazz’s Rudy Gobert 3.2 and Jokic 3.1.

Top Games

#5 Feb. 24 at Nets

Trailing by 13 at the half and by as much as 19 in the third quarter, the Magic stormed back and pulled out a thrilling comeback win over the Brooklyn Nets. Vucevic, who finished with 16 points, 10 rebounds and five assists, played a big part in the comeback, especially in that momentum-shifting third period when he made all five of his shot attempts.

#4 March 6 at Timberwolves

Vucevic carried the short-handed Magic, who were without the team’s second leading scorer, Evan Fournier, to victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves with a 28-point, 13-rebound performance. Orlando outscored Minnesota by 23 when its starting center was on the floor.

#3 March 2 vs. Blazers

Vucevic, who is averaging 23.3 points in his career against Portland – his best scoring average against any one opponent – matched his season high with 30 points against the Blazers. Orlando, however, was unable to slow down C.J. McCollum that night, as the Portland guard erupted for 41 points.

#2 Feb. 10 vs. Hawks

Vucevic, who has two triple-doubles on his career record, finished one rebound and one assist shy of one against the Atlanta Hawks. His nine assists, which accompanied his 24 points and nine boards, was a season high.

#1 Nov. 17 vs. Wizards

The NBA announced Vucevic was the Eastern Conference Player of the Week the day after he posted 30 points, 17 rebounds and six assists against the Washington Wizards. Earlier in the week, he tallied 25 points and 12 rebounds against the Philadelphia 76ers.


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