For those of you who don’t know, the starting center for the NBA Magic is 30 year old, free scoring, playmaking, and (seemingly) late peaking Nikola Vucevic.
You many not know because the Magic are uninteresting and in a small market, but the 6 foot 10 big is playing out of his head.
All star level? Of course. Down ballot MVP votes? Maybe if he keeps it up. That is how good Vuc has been.
The numbers look stellar, but is he actually good? Or is this a good stats – bad team guy?
The Case for Good
Can a bad player really average 23.5 points, 11 rebounds, and 4 assists per game in the National Basketball Association?
Not sure if that is possible. Against some of the best players in the world, Vuc has been a monster.
He passes the ball very well for a big and doesn’t turn the ball over much (1.6 per game), rare skills for a big.
He can score from 3 (44%), down low, and the mid range. The guy could be considered a walking bucket.
He carries the otherwise listless (and Fultz-less, sadly) Magic offense on his back.
I promise you, Aaron Gordon can’t just jump over and dunk on people all the time.
Without him the Magic would be the worst team in the league, and with him they are middling and a fringe playoff team.
NBA nerds also dig him:
— NBA Math (@NBA_Math) January 26, 2021
Could Nikola have blossomed into a legitimate star?
Vuc is very good.
The Case for Bad
How good can a player be when their team consistently doesn’t win?
The Magic this year seem OK, and could (should?) make the playoffs, right?
Well, not really, the Magic sit at 8-10 after facing one of the easiest schedules in the league, and have maybe the hardest schedule the rest of the way.
He has faced some of the worst defensive resistance in the league so far.
If the Magic were smart they would tank.
This also would mean less time for Vucevic (#freebamba), which would indicate he is better than the other centers on the roster. So he is good?
No; the other centers are very bad.
Also, let’s look at that tweet embedded earlier. You can see his TPM defensively is zero. That is VERY bad for a center, the most important defensive position on the floor.
If you score 100 and give up the same what is the point? Not great!
His on/off figures are also bad, the Magic are outscored by over 8 points per game with him on the floor per Cleaning the Glass.
That’s in the bottom 24% in the league after being in the 90th percentile in 3 out of 4 years previously. So…not great this year!
Vuc is a good stats, bad team guy who does not contribute to winning.
Okay Which Is It?
Well…probably somewhere in the middle.
Vucevic can score, absolutely, but he has never been even an average defender at his position.
Unfortunately, as we have seen, good defense is maybe the most important factor to playing center at this point in the NBA.
So while Nikola can do many things well, he lacks maybe the most important skills for a center.
While his shooting is a plus, he would need some excellent defenders all around him to cover him up.
God knows what someone like Embiid would do to him (oh wait the Magic lost by 24).
Nikola Vucevic is 25% good, 75% bad, and definitely not who you want on your team to win.
Good for the Magic, though, I guess.
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