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Jeff Reni’s NBA Player of the Week: Nicola Vucevic

This week was All-Star weekend, so there were just a few games the past few days with not too many storylines. In addition, many teams and players appeared checked out, perhaps waiting for the much needed mid-season break. Therefore, I wanted this week’s NBA player of the week to go to a player and a team that are borderline playoff-bound. This is why my NBA player of the Week goes to Nikola Vucevic. Vucevic is the staring center for the Orlando Magic and is the team’s first all-star since Dwight Howard. While many NBA fans wondered why Vucevic was given a spot on the all-star game, this week demonstrated why he deserve recognition as one of the best centers in the game.

First to put things into context, Vucevic is a double-double machine averaging 20.1 points a game and grabbing 11.1 rebounds per game. Vucevic’s play-style in a way is a throwback to older centers, as the majority of his poinst are created in the paint by utilizing a multitude of post moves. In addition, he has a very nice fade away bank shot similar to Lamarcus Aldridge. Vucevic does have the ability to shoot the three averaging a respectable 38% this year, though about 83% of his attempts come inside the arc. Unlike many of the center in the past, he is not a free throw liability as he has maintained a solid 77% free throw percentage this year (career 73.5%) . While his numbers are never flashy, his consistent scoring and ability to control the glass has been a big part of the Magic’s success this season.

However, Vucevic has demonstrated many clear weaknesses throughout his career that he still needs to improve upon. To put it bluntly, Vucevic has always been a defensive liability. He has a hard time stopping anyone 1v1 and struggles guarding against the pick and roll. A majority of the time, the Magic are simply trying to disguise him on the weakest matchup.

These strengths and weaknesses were on full display last week in blowout wins against the New Orleans Pelicans and the Charlotte Hornets. In both of these games, Vucevic was able to contribute on the offensive end to help secure both wins. During the Pelicans game, he scored 25 points while also grabbing 14 rebounds. He demonstrated his unique versatility on offense, essentially scoring from anywhere on the court. While this was the game where Anthony Davis was held to only 3 points, understand that Davis was being guarded by Aaron Gordon. In addition, it was clear that the recent trade rumors might be affecting NOLA’s usage of Davis, as he only played 24 minutes. In the second game, he nearly had a double-double again scoring 17 points and securing 9 rebounds.

Vucevic is a solid center and deserved his spot in the all-star game this year. The problem with Vucevic is that, along with his lackluster defense, he is on a mediocre team. Do not get me wrong, the Magic have some great pieces like Johnathan Isaac, and Aaron Gordon. However, the management, and player development has not helped Vucevic or his teammates reach their max potential. Yet even at this stage of his career Vucevic is still leading the Magic towards a playoff berth. If Vucevic could learn to be more aggressive on the offensive end, and build his defense prowess to prevent him from being a liability, then he will not only be able to lead Orlando towards a playoff spot, but will be able to be fulfill his ultimate potential within in his position.

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