Vucevic’s Role in the 2018-19 Season

CHICAGO, USA - DECEMBER 20: Nikola Vucevic (9) of Orlando Magic in action during an NBA basketball match between Chicago Bulls and Orlando Magic at United Center in Chicago, Illinois, United States on December 20, 2017. (Photo by Bilgin S. Sasmaz/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

After another disappointing season in Orlando, Nikola Vucevic was, as usual, one of the brighter spots in Orlando. However, some shortcomings at center meant drafting another one in Mohamed Bamba. Moreover, Vucevic’s injury last season caused even more issues. All that in mind, Vucevic’s role in Orlando will be a key factor for the team’s season.

Vucevic’s Role in the 2018-19 Season

The biggest factor to Vucevic’s role this season will, of course, be the rookie Bamba. Naturally, a high lottery pick will come in with expectations to eventually be a starter. Bamba may not begin there, but he should certainly move that way as the season goes. This could create issues for Vucevic.

Mo Bamba, Mo Problems?

Of course, a lottery pick filling in a starter role is usually a sign of progress. Certainly, that’ll be so down the road for Orlando. However, that may create complications through the early parts of this season. As the season moves forward, Vucevic’s role will begin to change.

Head coach Steve Clifford will need to design his game around this. If Bamba starts out well, Vucevic will quickly take on the role of a mentor before potential trade talks begin. In many ways, Vucevic and Bamba are polar opposites as players.

Vucevic’s Offense Vs. Bamba’s Defense

The clearest difference between Vucevic and Bamba comes in their abilities on the floor. Vucevic is a modern, floor-spacing center who can shoot the ball, though that’s about it. Whereas Bamba is a board-cleaning athlete with physical qualities who has defensive potential.

Some analysts think that Bamba’s offense can even develop. Though his unpolished game makes that unlikely. Either way, Bamba’s defense is what he was drafted for. Having a stretch-5 to man the post is a big part of today’s NBA. Surrounding Bamba with actual shooters will be even more important down the road. But for now, the idea seems to be that Bamba’s defense and rebounding will be a cornerstone for the team.

Where Can Vucevic Improve?

Of course, Vucevic will do what he can to stay in the starting lineup as long as he can. Vucevic is a talented, modern center. He won’t struggle to stay in an NBA lineup, whether in Orlando or elsewhere. Where Vucevic becomes a sub-par center is on defense, particularly in the post.

Vuc’s Post Performance

Over the last two years, Vucevic really struggled with rebounding. His average has been just under 10 rebounds a game in that time. Realistically, he could’ve done better. In his earlier years, he was rebounding as many as 11 a game. So what changed?

Former head coach Frank Vogel’s system has a lot to do with it. Vucevic has a really reliable jump shot. Especially for a center. This prompted Vogel to play him outside the post more often. After all, with teammates like Jonathan Isaac and recently traded Bismack Biyombo, someone had to provide some front-court offense. This had a major effect on his ability to rebound.

Nonetheless, even when Vucevic is in the post, his rebounding must improve. His biggest problem is his speed and motor. He’s usually too slow to get loose rebounds. He’s also often out-muscled. Vucevic can improve this by simply playing in the post more. Vucevic is a gifted shooter, but Vogel didn’t use him efficiently. At this point in his career, there won’t be much change to his game. Clifford will need to understand this and build his plan with that in mind.

Where Will Vucevic fit?

Bamba should be the team’s center before long. It’s all part of how the league works. Vucevic and the team obviously know this. So what will that mean for him this year? Of course, Vucevic will soon be jumping into a mentor role. Perhaps Bamba can learn some desperately needed offense from him.

Moreover, with a very weak Eastern Conference, the Magic making a 7-8 playoff seed isn’t totally out of the question. If Vucevic really shows up for the team, he’ll be a key to getting them there. Certainly, Clifford will want Vucevic’s role to be a major player in scoring-heavy rotations. For now, he can mentor guys like Bamba, while being backed up by Timofey Mozgov. The young Orlando team will certainly need his presence.
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