Kim Klement/USA TODAY
The Magic have asked Nikola Vucevic to do a lot more this year, his third in the NBA and his second in Orlando. Vucevic saw his impact and role within an offense increase. His usage rate has stayed steady around 20 percent, eclipsing 20 percent for the first time this year.
Vucevic has undoubtedly expanded his game.
For the Magic, the team has used Vucevic more and more and in new ways. He works a lot in the pick and roll, being able to pop out and hit the jumper — he is doing that 23.7 percent of his possessions for 0.78 points per possession according to Synergy Sports. He also is great on the offensive glass and is an improving post player. Vucevic currently ranks 31st in the league with 0.91 points per possession on postups, where a majority of his shots come from.
Another area where Vucevic has demonstrably improved is dishing from the post.
Really, it is the underrated skill for many solid post players.
"I think it is good that we have big men who can pass the ball," Vucevic said. "Usually teams don't really expect it. When we have the ball, teams might tend to relax and we get a lot of back doors. I really enjoy passing the ball. That's something I've been doing my whole life.
"You can't really work hard on your passing. You either know how to pass or you don't."
Vucevic has seen his assist rate jump from 9.3 percent last year to 11.2 percent this year. This year, Vucevic has created 5.2 points per game on assists and has 0.5 "hockey" assists per game according to NBA.com's SportVU statistics. Even Kyle O'Quinn has been better as a passer, dishing out 1.1 points created by assists per game and 4.9 per 48 minutes.
The Magic have some big men who are pretty good at dishing the ball. Or at least improving upon it.
This is a young team that is constantly improving on its skills. Having post men who are pretty good at passing is an incredibly important thing to have.
Jacque Vaughn said it starts with the fact his bigs are willing passers. They have trust that the perimeter players will look back inside on some of those occassions.
It also helps that the Magic have some solid cutters. Maurice Harkless, Victor Oladipo and Arron Afflalo have been the recipients of several of those passes. It is something the Magic will have to continue adding into their gameplans.
"We have good cutters, you want to get them the ball," Kyle O'Quinn said. "You don't want to just hold the ball at the top, it slows down the offense. It's just a good thing to have. An extra thing to have as a big man.
"It's a chemistry. Me and Vic have a good chemistry. It's something I developed through instinct I guess. You really can't work on passing, I don't think."
What is more impressive is that this is a skill both had naturally and did not really begin fully developing until they got into the NBA.
O'Quinn said he spent most of his time in college working out of the low post. He had to develop his jumper and his ability to work from the elbow in the NBA. Not an easy thing to do. O'Quinn has taken to it becoming one of the better screeners on the roster.
Vucevic has shown that growth too operating in new areas on the floor throughout the season.
Really the introduction of this new and important skill is about the confidence the players have in themselves and in their teammates. And conversely the trust their teammates have in them to make that pass and make the right play. The 24 seconds on the shot clock is not a very long time and Kyle O'Quinn said veterans like Jameer Nelson preach that the first good look a team gets, might be the only good look. It takes hard work to get a good shot.
Having unselfish post players who can dish out to the perimeter after drawing in the defenders in the paint makes that job exponentially easier.
As players like Vucevic and O'Quinn gain in confidence, it should make the team that much better. Vucevic especially has seen the impact of his confidence on play this year.
"That's one area where [Nik] has been really consistent at, his confidence level," Vaughn said. "And that's what you really need at this level to play that position. Because a lot of times your teammates feed off your emotion and your reaction. He'll continue to learn that.
"What I want them to do is to feel comfortable about the situations we're putting them in and to ask questions. I have been in that situation before so I have a little bit of knowledge that I can help him with. He has some teammates that want to help him as well. Overall, we're in this thing together. We're going to figure it out, keep pushing each other and continue to learn."
Watching how the team passes out of the post will be something to keep an eye on as the team continues through this season. It often will be how the Magic have to attack and create efficient offense.