Where Does Nikola Vucevic Rank Among NBA Centers?


Editor’s note: Where does Nikola Vucevic rank among NBA centers? is a guess post from Justin Becker of FantasyBasketballMoneyLeagues.com. You can follow him on twitter at @NBAFantasyInfo, and for more information on Orlando Magic stats, news and rumors visit Fantasy Basketball Money Leagues

Feb 12, 2014; Orlando, FL, USA; Orlando Magic center Nikola Vucevic (9) defends Memphis Grizzlies power forward Zach Randolph (50) during the second half at Amway Center. Memphis Grizzlies defeated the Orlando Magic 86-81. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

In just his first year in the league, Nikola Vucevic seemed to be trapped at the end of Philadelphia’s bench. I wonder if he ever thought to himself, “Will I ever make it in this league?” Saint Nik was only allotted 15.9 minutes per game in the 51 that he did play in as a rookie. Even with the limited playing time, his per-36 numbers showed he had the potential to become a nightly double-double. Then, a miracle happened.

Dwight Howard wanted out of Orlando. The Magic had just hired a new general manager (Rob Hennigan). In a three-way blockbuster trade, the Magic acquired Aaron Afflalo, Al Harrington, Moe Harkless and Nikola Vucevic. People seemed to think the Magic got ripped off initially. As we’ve seen Afflalo and Vucevic mature, now feelings are different.

So Vucevic now had his time to truly earn a role on a young, rebuilding team. Vucevic took full advantage of starting in his first season: 13.1 PPG, 11.9 REB and 1.0 BLK. He has picked up where he left off last season. After taking a horrible fall earlier this year, Vucevic recently returned from a concussion. Despite the missed time, Vucevic’s numbers are almost identical to last year on a per game basis. His rebounds are down slightly and he has improved his FT%, but for argument’s sake, they are the same. He didn’t make the All-Star team last year nor this year, although this year’s run was hindered by injury. I have been wondering aloud how many centers are truly better than Vucevic in the NBA. For that reason, I decided to write this article and analyze.

Of course, real life All-Stars and fantasy All-Stars can differ from one another. In theory, real All-Star voting doesn’t take percentages and/or turnovers into consideration, which matter in the fantasy world. Just because he didn’t make the All-Star team doesn’t mean he’s not one of the best few big men in the Eastern Conference. OK, so then who is better? At the center position, there were a handful of immediate names that stuck out as players I’d definitely prefer:

  1. Dwight Howard
  2. DeMarcus Cousins
  3. Al Jefferson

The three of these guys are the best in the NBA. If we’re talking about head-to-head fantasy basketball, these guys are also 1, 2 and 3. Rotisserie is not favorable to either Howard or Cousins because of free throw percentage. Either way, I think just about everything would safely say these are the three best centers in the game. Vucevic is not a tier one center. Onto tier number two:

  1. Marc Gasol
  2. Pau Gasol
  3. Andre Drummond
  4. Joakim Noah

In my rankings, these are the next four on the list. Now we’re getting closer to the same ballpark. All of these guys, like Vucevic, average a double-double (besides Marc Gasol). Marc, because of his defense, is just head and shoulders ahead of the pack. I’m not even going to focus on him. Both Drummond and Noah average fewer points per contest than Nik’s 13.2. Pau Gasol’s 10.2 REB/GM are less than Nik’s 10.9. These players are all reasonably similar. Now, it’s time to look a little deeper. Orlando is the second worst team in the East with a record of 13-37 (.260 winning percentage). The awful nature of the team allows a longer leash for a young center. Of the five centers we are talking about, only Joakim Noah’s is currently a playoff team. Los Angeles’ favorite team is only a slight notch ahead of the Magic, but Pau Gasol is a four time All-Star regardless. Both Gasols and Noah bring something to their game that Vucevic just doesn’t: excellent passing ability. Of every center eligible player on ESPN, Noah and the Gasols are the top three in assists per game. Getting teammates involved on offense obviously makes teammates better. Vucevic’s 1.8 AST/GM are over 1.5 less than Pau Gasol’s 3.4. Drummond, on the other hand, is one of the worse passers in basketball. He ranks in the bottom seven in percentage of passes per post attempt. Probably Drummond’s biggest weakness is his free-throw shooting ability (or lack thereof). Although he doesn’t take as many attempts, he is nearly as bad as Dwight Howard to a fantasy team’s FT%. Even after an improvement, Drummond’s FT% is only up to 40.9%. In comparison, Howard’s percentage is 53.3. Obviously, the big difference is Drummond only takes 4.0 attempts per game compared to Howard’s 9.5. Another similarity with Dwight Howard is that Drummond is a steal machine: he averages 1.5 per contest. He also shoots over 60% FG. Although he has his faults, those two attributes are the reason I would favor Andre Drummond. Joakim Noah’s energy and ability to lead the Bulls to a winning record without any real studs also makes me lean his way.

So who would be next on the list? DeAndre Jordan, Derrick Favors and Roy Hibbert. How does Vucevic compare to the three of them? I believe this is where he fits into the equation, aka, I think he is better. Jordan has been playing out of his mind this season, having easily his best year. Actually, he is leading the NBA in rebounds. The problem is he barely has any offensive game. Also, he’s helped out by the fact that he has both an all-world point guard and power forward playing with him. Blake Griffin helps clear space on rebound opportunities, clearing the way for Jordan. Offensively, Jordan basically just dunks. He’s a better defensive player than Vuc but I think Nikola actually would be even better if he were on the Clippers. I assume his rebound numbers would go up also considering he only has Glen Davis or Tobias Harris playing next to him; not exactly imposing figures. Favors is still developing and really is just slightly worse than Vuc in almost all aspects. Also, he predominantly plays power forward so it’s kind of comparing apples to oranges, despite his ESPN C eligibility. Hibbert goes through stretches where he can’t score but is a dominant defender. Somehow, even at 7’2 Hibbert’s mediocre rebounding skills make me lean Vucevic. I really think Nik could be the second best player on a championship caliber team. There’s no way a team could win with Hibbert or Jordan playing that role. For that reason, I think Nikola Vucevic, even at 23 years old, is the 8th best center in the game.

Arguments can be made for Chris Bosh, Spencer Hawes and Jonas Valanciunas. Bosh is a true power forward, Hawes excels because his team is horrible and allows so many points and Vucevic is flat out better than Val. Therefore, I stand by my list. Orlando found themselves a gem in the Dwight Howard trade and actually may have gotten the best of that deal. For your information, that deal involved both Dwight Howard and Andrew Bynum. If you own Nikola Vucevic in a fantasy basketball keeper league, I would hold onto him. As the team gets better, I think so will he. His efficiency and assists haven’t hit their ceiling just yet. Maybe if we revisit this issue in 2015, Vucevic will have made his way into the top five.

What do you think? Where does Nikola Vucevic rank among NBA centers? Let us know in the comments section below!