Nikola Vucevic expresses personal frustration with Orlando Magic’s season

Feb 3, 2017; Orlando, FL, USA; Orlando Magic center Nikola Vucevic (9) keeps the ball in bounds as Toronto Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas (17) defends during the second half at Amway Center.The Magic won 102-94. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 3, 2017; Orlando, FL, USA; Orlando Magic center Nikola Vucevic (9) keeps the ball in bounds as Toronto Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas (17) defends during the second half at Amway Center.The Magic won 102-94. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports /

Nikola Vucevic came into the season with great expectations for what the Orlando Magic could. As he and the team struggled, his disappointment only grew.

Nikola Vucevic has faced plenty of criticism in his five years with the Orlando Magic. He was the team’s leading scorer and most consistent offensive option — in reality the closest the team has come to having an All Star in this long, painful rebuild — but never could do enough.

He was too slow defensively. He stopped the ball on offense. He shied away from contact too much. He settled for jumpers.

These are all fair criticisms of Vucevic. He has done what he can to improve these areas but it still has not seemed to be enough. It has only added to a season of disappointment as a whole.

No player perhaps has felt this season’s disappointment more acutely. This was supposed to be the team’s step forward and for him a chance to reach the playoffs with the franchise he has given so much to in the last four years.

And with each defeat and the realization the Magic would not reach their goals, that frustration has bubbled over.

"“It’s been a very difficult season for me personally,” Vucevic told Orlando Magic Daily. “I really had high expectations for the team and for myself personally. Neither of those were achieved with the team. I didn’t play at the level I thought I would. I felt like I progressed every season I was here except for this one. I’m very disappointed. Just trying to finish the season off the best way we can. It’s going to be a big summer. We’ll see what happens.”"

Vucevic has not had the same statistical production as previous years with the Magic. He is averaging 14.6 points per game and 10.4 rebounds per game while shooting 46.8 percent from the floor. It is the lowest field goal percentage of his career.

It has been a difficult year. It was so even before the season began.

The Magic seemed to be pushing Vucevic out somewhat, acquiring Serge Ibaka and Bismack Biyombo in the summer. Even though Vucevic won the starting job, they both cut into his minutes. Vucevic was not quite getting the same looks either.

His play since the All-Star Break — he is averaging 16.5 points per game, 11.4 rebounds per game and a 45.0 percent field goal percentage — is more in line to what he has produced for the majority of his Magic career.

But none of that really mattered.

Vucevic has put up good individual numbers before. He has gone through years of losing and wanted to change that.

With the promise of the Playoffs and a roster, perhaps, with more talent than it had ever had in his tenure, it felt like it was time. His individual numbers did not matter as much as they once did.

It only added to the disappointment.

"“I think he had a really good individual season,” coach Frank Vogel said. “Obviously he is at the point in his career where team results are all that matters. I understand his frustration and share it. I thought he has made a lot of strides on the defensive end. Showed a lot more than I thought he was going to show me. I think he has had bigger numbers in the past when he has been asked to do more. His minutes were kept pretty low. He’s capable of carrying a bigger load with more run basically.”"

Every player worth their salt reaches this point in their career at some point. It becomes less about individual success and more about what they can add to a Playoff team. Vucevic, having built his individual success with the Magic, wanted to see it with this team.

The team’s struggles are painted over his face often in games.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

The usually easy-going Vucevic has outwardly expressed his frustration throughout the season. Sometimes to the team’s detriment. He has gotten angry at himself and causing him to be late to get back into the play as he chastises himself or looks to the referees for help.

Vucevic has still produced his usual numbers. But he has certainly been off as this season has gone on with those intangibles. Frustration for everyone has been a constant theme throughout the year.

Vucevic, as a team leader and its longest lasting member, felt a special responsibility to the team. And he struggled to carve out his role through all the changes with the Magic. He freely admits it was not his best season and the frustration got the better of him more than he would like.

"“I don’t think any player at the end of the season will say they are happy with their season personally,” Vucevic told Orlando Magic Daily. “We never established an identity something that we know what we do. Where we know this is consistently where I will get my look, this is what is going to happen throughout the game. I think that was the biggest issue. We never had any consistency to what we do.”"

Vucevic said he has shown only glimpses of what he worked on this season. His inability to get a consistent rhythm has hurt him as much as it has hurt his team. And left him and the team wondering where to go next.

Indeed, Vucevic has his best defensive box plus-minus and defensive win shares of his career with the Magic this year, according to Basketball-Reference. But his field goal percentage at the rim is as bad as it has ever been — 54.6 percent according to, down from 54.0 percent last year.

Just like so many other things with the Magic this year, Vucevic’s play is seemingly one step forward in one direction, another backward in another direction and then standing still in yet another. That lack of internal improvement or fit has defined the team this year.

And defined the team’s frustrations and disappointment.

This season, it was hard for anyone to show what they can do with the team trying to fit everyone into the same lineup. It was clear the pieces did not fit and did not feature anyone. Everyone suffered, it seemed.

Most of all Vucevic. He sacrificed the most to try to make things work for this team. And the Magic suffered through his struggles.

Next: ESPN names Nikola Vucevic a bargain contract player

The frustration only grew as the season went on.