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Frankel’s 2013-14 projections
By now you know the story of Nikola Vucevic, which has become an urban legend of sorts. He was acquired by the Orlando Magic, by way of Philadelphia, in the Dwight Howard blockbuster trade during the offseason last year, seen as nothing more than another young piece being tacked on in the deal to make it look like the Magic weren’t getting completely fleeced.
For hardcore Magic fans, it wasn’t difficult conjuring up images of the short-lived Rony Seikaly era, which occurred following Shaquille O’Neal’s exodus to Los Angeles in 1996. By swapping Howard for Vucevic, Orlando was following a familiar rode of replacing a once-a-generation center with a mere mortal. Or so people thought.
But as everyone quickly found out last season, Vucevic was no Seikaly redux. Instead, Vucevic quickly emerged as a double-double machine for the Magic. He finished third in the NBA last season in double-doubles, behind David Lee and Howard. He had a league-high four 20-20 games, including two against the two-time defending champion Miami Heat and a 30-20 game versus the Milwaukee Bucks.
And absolutely no one saw this coming. Vucevic went from being in head coach Doug Collins’ doghouse with the Philadelphia 76ers to becoming a franchise cornerstone in Orlando. In a city that’s home to Disney World, it’s a fitting fairy tale story.
So what does Vucevic have in store for an encore? What can he do to get better?
One of the primary areas for improvement is in Vucevic’s post-up game. In 2012-13, he averaged 0.68 points per possession on post-up plays, per Synergy Sports. A halfway-decent figure, but certainly could be much better. The good news for Magic fans is that Vucevic has realized this, making an effort during the offseason to improve as a low post player.
If he can do that, then he’ll be able to augment those offensive upgrades with his already-solid high post skills. Last season, Vucevic proved to be an above-average midrange jump shooter by shooting 42.0 percent from 16-23 feet, per Hoopdata. And his ability to pass out of the high post served the Magic well last season, and should continue to serve the team well, given that general manager Rob Hennigan has been persistent in adding slashers like rookie Victor Oladipo to the roster.
It’d be helpful for Vucevic if he can work on continuing to improve as a free-throw shooter, too, given that he shot 68.3 percent in 2012-13 — up from 52.9 percent in his rookie year — and is still in the developmental stage of his career. That’s one reason why his True Shooting percentage (.534) hovered around the league-average, despite shooting 51.9 percent from the field.
On the flip side, Vucevic could stand to become a better post-up defender. Strength was an issue and he would get bullied inside when trying to defend on the low block. That was his primary weakness on defense last season, alongside his inability to protect the rim. In 2012-13, opponents shot 59.7 percent at the rim with Vucevic off the floor compared to 62.4 percent with him on it, per NBA.com.
Vucevic has said he wants to become a better defensive player, so it remains to be seen if that verbal commitment translates on the court during the regular season where he’ll again see big minutes as Orlando continues to rebuild.
If Vucevic can keep getting better on both sides of the ball, then the Magic will have found their next centerpiece in the paint. Who would have thought that?