Nikola Vucevic Playing With Terrific Poise and Control

To the casual observer it might seem like Orlando Magic center Nikola Vucevic is having an off year what with his scoring and rebounding production being off slightly this season.

But to Vucevic’s teammates and head coach Scott Skiles, the 7-footer has never looked more poised and in control in the post than he has of late.

Vucevic entered Monday’s game against New Orleans averaging career highs in assists (2.6 apg.) and blocked shots (1.0) while shooting a personal best 52.6 percent from the floor. That diversification in his game has more than offsets his scoring (down from 19.3 ppg. last season to 16.9 ppg.) and rebounding (down from 10.9 rpg. last season to 8.7 rpg.) dropoffs – something that is partly due to him playing fewer minutes (down from 34.2 mpg. to 30.6 mpg.).

Vucevic has played his best basketball of late, and could be a contender for the NBA’s Eastern Conference Player of the Month award for December with a strong finish. In 13 December games prior to Monday, he’s averaged 18.7 points, 9.1 rebounds and 3.2 assists while shooting 54.8 percent. He scored 20-or-more points six times, had six double-doubles with points and rebounds and he’s handed out at least three assists in 10 games. In Saturday’s loss to Miami, Vucevic handed out six assists – which was one off his career-best total.

“Vooch is a gifted player – a 7-footer who can shoot and pass like that, I don’t know many other guys in this league who can do that,’’ said Magic guard Evan Fournier, Vucevic’s best friend on the team. “He knows dangerous he is down low and pretty much every team doubles him now and he’s just making the right play.’’

Vucevic’s improved passing has put him in position to join some elite company. Only one Magic player, Shaquille O’Neal, has ever averaged at least 17 points, nine rebounds and three assists a game for an entire month – something that Shaq accomplished four times over the 1994-95 and 1995-96 seasons.

Skiles likes running the offense through Vucevic because he knows that the big man will usually make good decisions with the ball, passing when double teams come and shooting when he’s single covered.

“We feel like he’s been better than last year all year,’’ Skiles said. “He’s made some really good decisions to the point of even being on one block (of the lane) and throwing the ball to the opposite corner. … We value him as a playmaker right now.’’

 

By: John Denton, NBA.com

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