Nikola Vucevic was not too thrilled when the Orlando Magic moved him to the bench. For now, he is filling the role nicely. But clouds loom for his future.
Despite playing some stellar defense and getting his offense to come around back to his usual numbers, Frank Vogel opted to move Vucevic to the bench. It was something that was unexpected as the Magic desperately needed Vucevic’s offensive ability.
And something that would take some time for Vucevic to accept.
“I didn’t think that there was a reason for me to go to the bench, but it’s coaches decision,” Vucevic told the media, including Orlando Magic Daily, after the game. “All I can do is control what I can control, which is when I’m on the court, play to the best of my ability and help the team win. Stay professional and whatever is going on, I’ll keep giving my best and give them my full effort.”
Despite these initial reservations, the Magic have not been so bad with this revised lineup.
The Magic went 4-1 on their recent five-game road trip, using Vucevic off the bench. He personally may not like it, but the move has worked — both for the Magic’s record and for Vucevic.
Overall, Vucevic is averaging 12.4 points and 11.3 rebounds this season so far. That is a big difference from last season, when he was taking in 18.2 points, 8.9 boards, and even 1 block per game.
Everyone knew the additions of Bismack Biyombo and Serge Ibaka would give Vucevic a hit statistically. There are only so many minutes to hand out. Still, even with the changes, Vucevic is averaging around 27 minutes per game — and there is little difference between his minutes starting and coming off the bench this season.
“Again, Vooch played near the same amount of minutes as he did the other night since we went to a three-man rotation with the big spot. It was really trying to give us a different feel, create a little bit of a different identity and see if some other things will work because things have not been working for us on the offensive end. So, just looking at all our options.” Vogel told Orlando Pinstriped Post.
Vogel has every right to make this adjustment. It gives Bismack Biyombo a chance to show his defense and hustle in the beginning of the game. And it lets Vucevic take down second string centers while providing some bench offense.
Also, it is not like Vucevic has completely dropped off the face of the Earth. He has had eight double doubles in his past nine games. And he is even shooting a three now and again.
Vucevic may be on the bench, but that is about the only change. Vucevic is still producing, averaging 13.9 points and 10.9 rebounds per game off the bench while shooting 44.6 percent from the floor.
He still manages to see a good amount of court time, and even closes out games.
The shift in Vucevic’s role is really in name only. He is continuing to get virtually the same minutes, close games and produce as if he is the starter. The Magic have certainly benefited from the boost he has provided off the bench.
It is still unclear what the future may hold for Vucevic. He has made his intentions known.
With Orlando reportedly looking to trade for a scorer, Vucevic may become the odd man out. His name will surely come up in trade rumors considering his team-friendly contract. It is possible Orlando will use him as trade piece. He may not put up the same numbers as before, but he has still got some value next to his name.
If the Magic are serious about trading for a go-to scorer, whomever that may be, then Vucevic will probably need to be a piece that gets dealt.
The Magic may have been getting better as of late, currently at 10-13, but they still need that knockdown scorer. Until then, the Magic are going to work with what they have got and search for the right combination to deliver wins.
For now, Vucevic is giving some nice depth off the bench. But he is shooting 43.9 percent and 62.5 percent from the charity stripe. Orlando needs more efficiency than that right now.
Overall, his role is obvious. He is a former starter that lost his job to give the bench some help. On any team, players must learn how to adapt and go with the motions to reach that one single goal.
Vucevic seems to be doing that now. But it will not be surprising if the Magic dangle him as trade bait either. Or if he makes another push to start the next time the Magic struggle.