Orlando Magic truly missing Nikola Vucevic

Feb 6, 2015; Orlando, FL, USA; Orlando Magic center Nikola Vucevic (9) drives to the basket as Los Angeles Lakers center Robert Sacre (50) defends during the first quarter at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 6, 2015; Orlando, FL, USA; Orlando Magic center Nikola Vucevic (9) drives to the basket as Los Angeles Lakers center Robert Sacre (50) defends during the first quarter at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

Nikola Vucevic has missed the last 12 games and it is abundantly clear how much the Orlando Magic miss him. The numbers show it too as the team struggles.

Nikola Vucevic is expected to earnestly return to practice Monday as he deals with the strained groin that has kept him out of the past 12 games. Scott Skiles said before the Orlando Magic’s win over the Chicago Bulls on Saturday that Vucevic would be ramping up his activity Monday and the team would evaluate him after that.

There is certainly no indication the Magic will shut Vucevic down for these final nine games. If he can return to a level where he is comfortable, Vucevic will be back on the court before the season ends.

For all the consternation and worries about Vucevic and his shortcomings, he is still a very good player. A player who adds something to the Magic and gives them a weapon defenses have to be wary of. Those 17.8 points per game and 9.0 rebounds per game get filled, but maybe not as effectively or efficiently.

For whatever faults or ceilings Vucevic might have, there is one thing Vucevic is — consistent. And the Magic have largely missed that consistency in the last 12 games.

With Vucevic out of the lineup — a span that included a four-game West Coast trip and a five-game East Coast road trip — the Magic have struggled. They have won just three of those games — at Sacramento, vs. Denver and vs. Chicago. And the numbers have not looked good. Just not in the way you would expect.

In the last 12 games, the Magic have posted a 103.1 offensive rating and a 108.6 defensive rating. The season averages for the Magic this year are a 101.6 offensive rating and a 104.2 defensive rating. Yes, in the last 12 games without Vucevic the offense has been better and the defense has been worse.

There are extraneous factors involved too.

Victor Oladipo has missed games now too and Ersan Ilyasova is out again too. Those are rotation-level players who would make the team better. The whole factors are not necessarily attributable to Vucevic’s absence alone.

Still the numbers are jarring.

Even in a year Vucevic’s rebounding is down — both the raw number is down to 9.0 per game but also his rebound percentage has dropped to 15.6 percent, the lowest of his career — the Magic have missed Vucevic’s penchant for gobbling up boards.

The team’s rebound rate in the past 12 games is 48.0 percent with a 22.0 offensive rebound rate. For the season the Magic grab 49.8 percent of available rebounds with a 23.4 offensive rebound rate.

This is all to say, the Magic’s rebounding is down since Vucevic left the lineup, whether he is the cause or not.

Even the Magic’s defense at the rim has decreased since Vucevic left, dropping from the season average of 53.4 percent field goal percentage at the rim to 54.8 percent.

Again, not all of this is attributed to Vucevic.

The Magic have been thin at center and have had to run Ersan Ilyasova and Andrew Nicholson at center for long periods of time during this span. Jason Smith and Dewayne Dedmon have had trouble staying on the floor on occasion because of fouls. The Magic’s depth has truly been tested through all these injuries.

If the Magic are intent on winning in these final nine games — all indications are that they are — Vucevic is an important player in that cause.

There is something to be said for his consistency, particularly on offense and on the glass. The Magic have missed some of that.

Even defensively, while Vucevic is not thought of as a strong defender and the numbers throughout the season have shown the Magic are worse with him defensively, the Magic have not been locked in defensively at all. Things have gotten worse in this stretch. Although Saturday was a step in the right direction.

There are other factors involved too. It is not just Vucevic’s absence that has caused this slipping of late. They may very well be the same kind of factors that led to the Magic’s initial slide — the inconsistent effort on defense and struggles to fight off major runs from opponents.

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Still, the Magic clearly miss their starting center — warts and all. He brings that rotational balance Skiles likes to talk about and is a weapon defenses have to account for. His return will make the Magic better to help them close out this season.