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What can we expect from Nikola Vucevic?

Of all the positions on the Magic's opening starting lineup, fans feel pretty comfortable with four of the five. Jameer Nelson should start at point guard with Arron Afflalo at shooting guard. Even before Maurice Harkless' injury was announced, Hedo Turkoglu seemed set to start at small forward. Glen Davis will hold down one of the post spots.

That leaves the center position (assuming Al Harrington comes off the bench after he returns from injury). Gustavo Ayon and Nikola Vucevic are both going to compete for this position throughout the year and I am pretty certain we will see both start at some point in the season.

Ayon is a gritty player, but at 27 years old, he may largely be the player he is already. Vucevic is a much more intriguing piece for the Magic and their future.

Entering his second year, nobody is quite sure what Vucevic can do. He spent three years at USC as his role grew steadliy. In his junior year, he averaged 17.1 points per game and 10.3 rebounds per game. He clearly had plenty of capability when Philadelphia picked him with the 16th pick of the 2011 Draft. His rookie year was a bit of a struggle. He never got consistent playing time in averaging 5.5 points per game and 4.8 rebounds per game in 15.9 minutes per game. He played 51 games during the season, starting 15, but appeared in only one of Philadelphia's playoff games.

Vucevic remains a very intriguing prospect.

In college, he had a decent post game going up against the Pac-12's best players and he has shown an ability and willingness to step out and shoot jumpers. While his leaping ability and overall bulk are not where they need to be, he is a decent option in the pick and roll because he can pop out and hit the jumper. He took 92 field goal attempts from 16-23 feet. He does not lack for confidence in that area even though he shot 36.0 percent from that range.

 

Vucevic has a lot to improve on in his game. The potential is certainly there however. And that is why Alex Kennedy of HoopsWorld has him among his sophomores to watch this season:

 

Nikola Vucevic, Orlando Magic

After trading Dwight Howard to the Los Angeles Lakers, Orlando doesn't have an experienced center on their roster. Nikola Vucevic may enter the season as the Magic's starting center, even though he’s only started 15 games in his career. Vucevic spent last season with the Philadelphia 76ers, averaging 5.5 points and 4.8 rebounds after being selected with the 16th overall pick in last year's draft. At the very least, Vucevic will play a large role in Orlando since the only other center on the roster is fellow second-year player Gustavo Ayon. There are definitely minutes for Vucevic in Orlando and he'll have every opportunity to succeed. The Magic want to follow the Oklahoma City Thunder model, and they're expected to play their young talent from day one and let them learn on the job. That means the 21-year-old Vucevic may win the starting job over the 27-year-old Ayon.

NBA.comCertainly, Vucevic has a lot more upside than Ayon at this point. That may not matter much for the competition that will ensue for the starting center position. Orlando will test its player development program very early as Vucevic could be a bust or a player worth keeping in the long-term plans.

Vucevic really does have that potential. And that makes this opportunity for him all the more important.

Jacque Vaughn will give him the playing time, with the players on this team. Vucevic should be part of the center rotation and should get consistent minutes. I would suspect he will play in every game unless both Ayon and Kyle O'Quinn beat him out. The thing is, neither of those players competing for time at center with Vucevic have the talent that Vucevic has. Their ceiling is not as high as Vucevic's, and they likely will not play the same potential role in Orlando's future that Vucevic might.

The other plain fact is that nobody is quite sure if Vucevic can live up to that potential. That one year in Philadelphia was very inconclusive. Certainly, it was not a projection of what he can do for the rest of his career.

And so nobody is quite sure what we can expect from Vucevic this year. Based on his offensive skill, he will be in the running to start on opening night and he will be one of the rookies getting his chance to play from the beginning of the year. He will have his opportunity this year.

Philip Rossman-Reich

About Philip Rossman-Reich

Philip Rossman-Reich is the managing editor for Crossover Chronicles and Orlando Magic Daily. You can follow him on twitter @OMagicDaily

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