Douglas Jones/USA TODAY
Last year, Nikola Vucevic was not a go-to offensive option. The second-year center was making a name for himself mostly as a rebounder and junkyard dog on the offensive glass. He had some post moves and a nice little jumper but it was not quite developed or reliable. Not yet at least.
For much of this year, Vucevic has been more of a go-to option offensively. More than one-third of Vucevic's possessions end with him posting up and he is 15th in the league with 0.88 points per possession in such situations. Vucevic is a better post player, but still working to get more consistency and scoring from that spot. Wednesday he struggled just staying on the floor with foul trouble and did not find success in straight post ups.
His footwork is better and that has led to an increase in his scoring — 13.1 points per game to 14.9 points per game — and an increase in his usage rate — 19.3 to 20.2 percent.
Vucevic is being asked to do more and, at times, be the focal point of the team's offense.
"I think I'm good enough to play [with the best centers in the league]," Vucevic said. "There are better players than me obviously. I'm only 23 so there is a long ways to go. To be as good as some other people in this league, I have to get my team some wins and make my team a winning team."
Vucevic is a big part of that formula to win games right now. HIs performance certainly has some correlation to the Magic's success.
The growing comfort for Vucevic in the post and his growing confidence in himself will pay dividends for the Magic down the road. Vucevic put in a tremendous amount of work this summer to improve his post game, often working out either in Orlando with the crew that spent almost the entire summer at Amway Center or in Montenegro with his father or the national team.
Coach Jacque Vaughn continues to praise Vucevic's footwork and the mentorship that came from Vucevic's father, a former professional basektball player in Montenegro and Europe. Vucevic is not unlike many European big men who come to the U.S. with a tremendous amount of skill already.
Already in games this year, Vucevic has demanded the ball from his teammates. The win over the Clippers a few weeks ago was notable for Vucevic's insistence on getting the ball and his ability to hit big shots as the Magic held on for that big home win.
For Vucevic it is about finding a comfort level right now as teams begin to recognize just how much better he has become.
"He's still finding his comfort level," Vaughn said. "I think it is better than it has been. I think that he will agree that he will continue to improve. He's at a point whre teams are double teaming him at times and, at the same time, he is learning how to read that and be a good passer and also finish and what's available for him while he is on the post."
Vucevic's improvement process is still ongoing. Wednesday's loss served as a painful reminder of that. It still takes repetition and work to get Vucevic where he wants to go. Even though he is feeling more comfortable in the post, this is just the first step in the long process for Vucevic to get where he eventually wants to go.
Whatever comfort level Vucevic has now is changing as teams double him more and show him the respect of a guy near the top of the scouting report.
"I'm definitely more comfortable now," Vucevic said. "It takes a lot of work and repetition in games over and over and not thinking about making a mistake. When I get tout there, I get the ball in the post and try to go to work and try to make the right play. Now, when I'm out there, I try not to think about it and go right to work."