Orlando Magic Playbook: How the Toronto Raptors have eliminated Nikola Vucevic

Nikoila Vucevic's struggles in the playoffs perhaps previewed a murky future. (Photo by Mark Blinch/NBAE via Getty Images)
Nikoila Vucevic's struggles in the playoffs perhaps previewed a murky future. (Photo by Mark Blinch/NBAE via Getty Images) /
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Nikola Vucevic, Orlando Magic, Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors
TORONTO, CANADA – APRIL 16: Nikola Vucevic #9 of the Orlando Magic handles the ball against the Toronto Raptors during Game Two of Round One of the 2019 NBA Playoffs on April 16, 2019 at the Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by Mark Blinch/NBAE via Getty Images) /

Passing out of the post

The Orlando Magic have two basic ways they get Nikola Vucevic his offense — post-ups and pick and rolls. He will also score on the offensive glass, but that is not necessarily something the team can gameplan for.

The Magic like to run a lot of their offense through Vucevic and cut off him, using his passing from the low- and high-post to get players free. Vucevic draws a lot of attention because of his ability to score on the block. Vucevic scored just 0.93 points per possession on post-ups according to NBA.com, despite being one of the most frequent post players in the league.

But teams swarm and account for him at all times. He is probably the only player that commands this kind of attention. And so the Magic have to go to him even if it is not always the most efficient way for Vucevic to score.

Despite how poorly Vucevic has played overall, this attention has already paid off for the team. Late in Game 1, it was Vucevic reading the double team and whipping the ball to Aaron Gordon for a late 3-pointer that proved vital.

When he has the time to read the defense and can work through his play, he can put passes on the money to get shooters good shots. Here, he sees Pascal Siakam preparing to trap him when he makes his move to get past Danny Green. That is good for him to be in help.

Nikola Vucevic sees it and surprises Pascal Siakam by sending the pass cross court to Aaron Gordon for a big three.

He did it again on Jonathan Isaac‘s big 3-pointer.

Again, Nikola Vucevic gets a mismatch with Kyle Lowry in the block. That forces Siakam to start making his way across the lane to try to help and that leaves a shooter open on the weak side. He finds Gordon on the wing knowing Kawhi Leonard is likely to steal a direct pass to the corner. Aaron Gordon could have shot it but he draws Kawhi Leonard to him and finds Jonathan Isaac for a big shot.

That is the kind of gravity Vucevic can have. Give him the time and the attention and he will make the right play more often than not.

Of course, the bigger issue at this point is not that Vucevic makes the right play against smaller defenders when the trap is late. The problem is more how immediate the pressure comes and how the Raptors’ bigs are able to knock Vucevic off his favored spot and force him to speed up.

This is not an issue of whether Vucevic can make an impact from the post. It is just whether he can get to those spots to make that impact. The Raptors switched a whole lot less on the post-up players in Game 2. Vucevic had fewer opportunities like this to make a big play.