As a dejected Nikola Vucevic left the Amway Center on Wednesday night, the weight of the Magic’s latest defeat sat heavily on his shoulders. The six-year veteran finished the game with 11 points and 16 rebounds, albeit on a dismal 3-of-14 shooting. More crucially, Vucevic missed a clutch free throw that would’ve extended the Magic lead to four points late in the fourth quarter. Seconds later, MVP candidate Russell Westbrook hit a three-pointer to send the game to overtime:
The Magic went on to lose the game 114-106 in a way that very much embodied their lackluster season. Despite the heroics of Westbrook, who recorded a record-breaking 57 points, 13 rebounds, and 11 assists on the night, the Magic had the game in hand. Leading by 10 with more than seven minutes to go in the fourth, poor execution cost the Magic down the stretch.
Nikola Vucevic is Good, but Perhaps Not Good Enough
Much of the blame for the defeat came upon Vucevic, who had one of his weakest games of the season. The ability to execute in key moments is ultimately what separates the ‘good’ players from ‘great’ ones. Although Vucevic is undoubtedly a star for the Magic, he may never make it as a star in the league.
Vucevic is averaging a double-double, putting up 14.7 points and 10.3 rebounds per game this season. What’s more, the Montenegrin big man is averaging a near double-double over his career. During his six years in the league, Vucevic has averaged 14.6 points and 9.9 rebounds over his career. Despite these impressive numbers, Vucevic has not so much as been considered for an All-Star selection. This begs the question of whether he will ever make it as one of the league’s best centers.
Compared with the Best
Vucevic ranks sixth among centers in points per game, eighth in rebounds, fourth in assists, but 19th in blocks. He is consistent, to say the least. Without a doubt, Vucevic is one of the top centers in the league, yet when compared with the very best, he seems to come up short in the most important areas. Despite being a well-rounded player, Vucevic fails to stand out in any one area. Among centers, Vucevic ranks 17th in Player Efficiency Rating, third in turnover ratio, and seventh in usage rate. Once again, he falls in the middle of the pack when it comes to the league’s best big men.
A New Type of Center
The next few seasons will no doubt be crucial to Vucevic’s career. However, his emergence may be coming at the wrong time. A traditional NBA big man, Vucevic can play both stellar offense and consistent defense. However, the former USC player may need to improve in other areas to really put the league on notice. The emergence of young, versatile centers such as Joel Embiid and Karl Anthony-Towns in recent years has helped transform the role of centers. Things such as shooting consistently from the field, as well as being able to knock down the three ball, have both become ‘must have’ attributes in the league. Vucevic currently shoots 46.9 percent from the field but only 27.9 percent from three. He’ll need to improve both of those numbers to be recognized as one of the league’s best.
Suiting a Better Team
The question arises as to whether Vucevic would gain more stature on a contending team. Since his move to the Magic back in August 2012, Vucevic has never been on a playoff team. Despite his obvious talent, Vucevic has been unable to make an impact in big games, simply because he has played in very few. With rumors back at the trade deadline surrounding Vucevic, the former 16th overall pick has certainly drawn interest. For Vucevic to take the next step in his career, he may need to do so on a different team.
There is no doubt that Vucevic has made his mark on the Magic. A player who leaves his heart and soul on the court, Vucevic has given his all in Orlando. The argument that he is a good player is uncontested. However, Vucevic does have some way to go in order to be considered a top center in the NBA.