How does Nikola Vucevic fit new-look Orlando Magic frontcourt?

Feb 23, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Orlando Magic center Nikola Vucevic (9) reacts to an officials call during the first half against the Philadelphia 76ers at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 23, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Orlando Magic center Nikola Vucevic (9) reacts to an officials call during the first half against the Philadelphia 76ers at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports /

Nikola Vucevic could stand to benefit from the addition of defensive-minded centers next to him. But the added players also leave his role in doubt.

For the Orlando Magic, this offseason came with three main needs to fill: rim protection, experience and depth.

By trading Victor Oladipo, Ersan Ilyasova and the 11th overall pick in this year’s draft, Domantas Sabonis, for Serge Ibaka, general manager Rob Hennigan addressed at least two of those needs. He then addressed the other by re-signing one of last year’s key performers, Evan Fournier, and adding veteran role players Jodie Meeks, D.J. Augustin and Jeff Green.

Still, the big splash came when Hennigan succeeded in signing shot blocker extraordinaire Bismack Biyombo to a reported four-year, $72-million deal.

His acquisition went some way toward justifying the trade that saw Tobias Harris sent to Detroit for Ilyasova and Brandon Jennings last season, not to mention that which saw veteran shooter Channing Frye swapped for a second round pick and the decision to practically give away intriguing prospect Moe Harkless to Portland.

At just 23 year old, Biyombo offers a lot of potential, but adding him after acquiring Ibaka raises a number of questions about the future of Orando’s frontcourt. The most important of which undoubtedly relates to Nikola Vucevic’s role with the team.

On the one hand, it is quite easy to argue Vucevic will be essential going forward, as he is the only scorer among them.

This season, Vucevic averaged 18.2 points per game, while Ibaka scored just 12.6 and Biyombo recorded just 6.2 points per game. Vucevic shot 51 percent from the field in 65 appearances, hurting opponents in the post while also stepping out to make those mid-range jumpers that make life so difficult for opposing centers.

Although the Magic likely overpaid for a player who can walk away at the end of next year in Ibaka as a quality rim protector who commands respect from the 3-point line (he shot 33 percent from there last season), he seemed like the ideal running mate for Vucevic. His arrival most likely means Aaron Gordon will play the majority of his minutes at the small forward spot henceforth, but that may not necessarily be such a bad thing provided coach Vogel can help him angle his inner Paul George.

But, by adding Biyombo, Hennigan created something of a conundrum for himself (or for new head coach Frank Vogel down the line), as at least one of these three players is now going to have to come off the bench.

On the plus side, Vucevic’s skill set means he can play as both a center and as a power forward. In fact, his versatility enabled Scott Skiles to pair him with either Tobias Harris or Aaron Gordon in smaller lineups, or with Dewayne Dedmon when he needed to go big, oftentimes in a single game. With the addition of Biyombo (who will, for obvious reason, command considerably more playing time than Dedmon averaged this year) Orlando does seem to be placing less of an emphasis on that particular approach, even if Ibaka – like Vucevic – can fill in at the five.

The prospect of a frontcourt pairing of Ibaka and Biyombo is reminiscent of the defense-first Roy HibbertDavid West combo that brought Vogel so much success in Indiana. And, if this is the approach the new head coach favors when the regular season rolls around, Vucevic could end up playing a complementary roll off the bench in the style of, say, Enes Kanter played in Oklahoma City this year.

Like Vucevic, Kanter’s offense is stronger than his defense and he averaged an impressive 12.7 points and 8.1 rebounds in 21 minutes per game while playing behind Ibaka and Steven Adams this season.

Whether or not Rob Hennigan would be able to convince Vucevic to accept a similar role remains to be seen, but the one thing that is clear is that his minutes would have to be high even if he were to drop to the bench, as a group comprising Elfrid Payton, Fournier, Aaron Gordon, Ibaka and Biyombo is unlikely to outscore too many teams.

And that, on the face it, is the big problem – this team still lacks a proven, reliable, consistent scorer.

Evan Fournier put the ball in the basket to the tune of 15.4 points per game this season, but even he had his rocky spells. D.J. Augustin averaged 11.6 points in 28 appearances in Denver, while Jeff Green put up 12.2 in 53 appearances with the Memphis Grizzlies. Jodie Meeks can shoot too, but injury and inconsistency have limited him to a career average of just 9.9 points per game in his seven years in the league. Then there is Mario Hezonja, who will probably find himself playing limited minutes once again next season off the bench.

Defensively, Orlando will improve and under Vogel the team should bound up the rankings after logging the 17th best defense in the league this season (up from 25th in 2015). There is also a chance the defensive abilities of his new teammates will have a positive impact on Vucevic, who is yet to play alongside bigs of their caliber or with their experience during his time with the Magic.

Unfortunately though, that time may now be limited.

While he has been the heart and soul of the franchise’s rebuild to date, Vucevic does not quite fit the defense-first approach of his new coach and may find himself the odd man out as a result.

It seems unlikely the Magic snared Biyombo by offering an opportunity to play off the bench, while the experience and leadership Ibaka brings to the table, combined with his ability to space the floor (thus making room for Biymobo to operate down low and Elfrid Payton to squeeze through the cracks), makes him an obvious choice for the starting five.

Hennigan may want to use Vucevic as a means of finding replacements for Andrew Nicholson and the aforementioned Dedmon, who both were sacrificed to make the big free agency splash.

Alternatively, he may consider doing something radical, like, say, packaging Vucevic with Elfrid Payton in order to capture a veteran point guard who can run his new-look team and provide a better blend of offense and defense than the roster currently can.

However things work out, the bottom line is that Vucevic is an attractive prospect who is on a very attractive deal that looks even more attractive now the new TV deal has kicked in and the cap has skyrockets.

Next: Jodie Meeks looking for fresh start with Orlando Magic

As this summer has already proved though, noone’s spot on the team is safe, not even that of the Magic’s longest tenured player of the post-Dwight Howard era. His future is as uncertain as anyone else’s on the roster.