Nikola Vucevic has emerged as a quality player in the NBA in his second year. He is among the league leaders in double doubles and rebounds and has done wonders with the playing time and the opportunity given to him from this rebuilding Magic team.
Vucevic is averaging 12.5 points per game and 12.6 rebounds per game and has seen an increase from his rookie year in his per 36 minute numbers. Vucevic has climbed into the Most Improved Player conversation with his ability to work around the basket and his rebounding ability.
"One thing about Nik is he is very consistent," Vucevic's former coach in Philadelphia, Doug Collins, said on March 10. "That’s what you want from a player. Basically, every night you know what you’re going to get from him. I’m very proud of him. He has worked hard. I f you charted him in college, every year he got better. I think he is going to do the same thing as an NBA player. The big thing is just stay healthy."
His consistency has been well noted and Collins said he recognized Vucevic's skill early on in the Draft process. His playing time was cut as Vucevic struggled to get back from a knee injury in the middle of last season. Even in the Playoffs when he was theoretically healthy to play. There was some measure of frustration that the rookie was on the bench late int he season from the always fickle Philadelphia fans.
Still, Collins said Vucevic is the kind of player that could be putting up double doubles in this league for a long time to come.
It is clear too though that Vucevic has areas he needs to improve. He told Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel that he plans on spending his summer improving his strength, working on his post moves and getting some big-game experience playing for Montenegro at EuroBasket.
Vucevic is a 51.4 percent shooter and he has a very rudimentary post game and, despite his rebounding numbers is not particularly strong around the basket defensively. He is averaging 1.0 blocks per game and his defensive rating is 1.06. Perhaps a sign he is on a team with only 19 wins, but it is also not a sign that he is the rim protector that many successful teams have on their rosters.
Protecting the rim is an area Vucevic knows he has to continue to improve on to take that next step in his game defensively.
"That’s something I have already gotten better at," Vucevic said on March 10, when he recorded two blocks. "It wasn’t my main strength. I’m trying to work on it and get better at it.
"We need that from me as a team. It helps the guards be more aggressive on the ball and if the guy gets by them, they know they have me behind them to block a shot or contest it. I know I have to get better at it and I’m working on it."
His defense is still very much a work in progress and that is where the Magic will be curious to see his growth in the near future.
Vucevic appears to have a nice base there to build from too. He is giving up 0.84 points per possession defensively according to MySynergySports (Dwight Howard is at 0.71 points per possession for reference). In post ups, that number rises to 0.89 points per possession.
These are not awful numbers, but they are hardly elite.
Maybe Vucevic will never be an elite defensive player. But he knows it is an area he has to improve upon. His individual defense appears to be relatively strong at this point. However, it is his ability to deter drivers into the paint and work on help side that will determine just how successful he can be as a player.
This is where Vucevic will have to learn from experience and learn by watching game tape and improving his strength and awareness this summer.
Vucevic has been a resounding success so far this season, but there is still a lot more Vucevic can do.