After a rookie season in which he played somewhat sparingly, center Nikola Vucevic was sent to the Orlando Magic from the Philadelphia 76ers in the Dwight Howard blockbuster. Since then, the former USC Trojan has been one of the league’s most productive big men. However, his long term status with the franchise is currently unknown.
Despite battling through a multitude of injuries this past season, Vucevic was still one of the most productive players on the Magic roster. Not only did he lead the team in rebounding, but he also finished third in points per game, second in win shares, second in defensive win shares and a tie for second in defensive rating. The team also struggled mightily with Vucevic out of the lineup, going a dreadful 4-21 in the 25 games he missed this season, pushing their record to an abysmal 5-25 in Vucevic’s two years in Orlando.
Coming into his second season in Orlando, many wondered if Vucevic would be able to replicate the numbers he put up in his first season. Not only did he prove it wasn’t fluke, he also showed off new facets of his game, mostly on the offensive side of the ball. Vucevic showed off an improved low post game to go along with his already dependable mid-range jump shot. However, Vucevic know’s he has to continue to improve.
During exit interviews, the big man was asked what he needed to improve most this offseason, to which he had this to say, “I’m looking to mainly improve my strength and conditioning; overall work on stuff related to that, that’s going to be my main focus and my post game, something that I’ve gotten better at this year, but I think I can still improve. Just work a lot and improve my game overall, can always get better. Watch all of my games from this year to see what I was doing well, what I wasn’t. Work on that stuff, talk to the coaching staff, see what they want me to work on and set up a good program for the summer.”
One area many believe Vucevic must improve is his defense. According to MySynergySports.com, Vucevic finished 193rd in the league in overall points per possession (PPP) allowed this season, allowing .88 PPP. However, Vucevic ranked 43rd in the league defending the post, allowing .72 PPP.
Despite his solid synergy numbers as a post defender, Vucevic was abysmal defending the rim. Per NBA.com’s player tracking data, opponents attacked Vucevic at will, attempting 7.1 shots per game at the rim, while converting 56.4 percent of them. That percentage ranks the Montenegran the fifth worst percentage amongst players who defended at least five such shots per game.
Like teammate Tobias Harris, Vucevic’s future with the Magic is somewhat unclear. Vucevic, who is eligible for a contract extension this offseason, has had a profound impact on the Magic since his acquisition prior to the 2012-13 season. The seven-footer has expressed that he’d love to stay in Orlando, telling reporters this during the team’s exit interviews, “I’d love to stay in Orlando. I like it here a lot, I like the team, I like what we’ve got going here, I like the coaches, I like everything. I’d love to stay here, but I guess we should talk about that when the time comes. Can’t really talk about that now.”
Much like Harris, Vucevic’s contract status makes his future with the team uncertain. However, unlike Harris, there is a good baseline to try and figure out just how much Vucevic will get paid. Based on trends with teams re-signing big men, Vucevic could garner a payday in the $11-13 Million range.
While it’s clear he wants to stay in Orlando, some also depends on how the draft plays out. The team could choose to go in a different direction by selecting Kansas center Joel Embiid with their first overall selection, which would most likely force Vucevic out of town, either via trade or via free agency.
From his high levels of productivity to his love for the city, the Magic have undoubtedly found themselves a potential keeper in Vucevic. However, the NBA is a business, and as is the case in many business, things change. All signs currently point to Vucevic getting an extension, but anything is possible, and his “business” moment could come at anytime depending on how this offseason plays out in the City Beautiful.