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, Toronto Raptors
TORONTO, ON – APRIL 13: Toronto Raptors center Serge Ibaka (9) and Toronto Raptors forward Pascal Siakam (43) combine to stop Orlando Magic center Nikola Vucevic (9) at the glass. Toronto Raptors vs Orlando Magic in 2nd half action of Round 1, Game 1 of NBA playoff play at Scotiabank Arena. Magic won 104-101. Toronto Star/Rick Madonik (Rick Madonik/Toronto Star via Getty Images) /

Knocked off his spot

Nikola Vucevic has had a long history of struggles against Marc Gasol. Vucevic has generally struggled against bigger post players who can muscle him around. If there was a criticism for Vucevic, it was his penchant to settle for mid-range jumpers against these kinds of players.

That was seen less and less this year. One of Steve Clifford’s goals in the preseason was to get Vucevic in the post more. That seemed to work, Vucevic had the sixth-most post-up possessions in the league this regular season — albeit to mixed efficiency as a scorer.

But Vucevic has had precious few post-up opportunities this series. And when he has had them, he has been put in areas and situations that make it tough for him to score.

The Magic in Game 1 did a good job trying to get Vucevic the ball on the move before the defense can really get set. But even with Nikola Vucevic in motion to get to his spot, watch how Marc Gasol is able to push Vucevic off his spot.

Vucevic wants the ball with one foot in the paint. Gasol is able to force him a clear two steps away from the paint by the time he catches the ball.

This leads to the next problem Vucevic has experienced throughout this postseason. He is just rushing everything.

Yes, it is good to attack quickly before the defense can get set. Even on this play, you can see the Raptors beginning to load up on Vucevic and bring a double team and help into the paint. Vucevic knows this and is starting to work quickly to counteract that.

But here, he works too quickly and rushes up a shot. Gasol does a good job staying in front of Vucevic and keeping him from getting to his spot in the lane. But this is still a makeable shot.

Contrast that to this play.

Vucevic is able to drive quickly on Gasol and get to the basket. He pauses and sets up a quick post up and hits a tough shot over Gasol. Here he moves quickly, but has his legs under him and is composed.

The issue for Vucevic on the block is not ability. It is probably more about calm and poise. He has to do a better job being patient and reading the defense to find his opportunities and where his teammates are to create for them.

Toronto’s double-teaming and traps in the post are a real thing. They are a cause for concern. Gasol is a solid post defender on his own right. He has used his length well to deflect passes out of the post and all around. Vucevic has struggled to work around this.

Adding in a double team has had Vucevic rushing and making mistakes as he tries to read the defense and react quickly.

Here Marc Gasol and Pascal Siakam converge on Nikola Vucevic as he works the post. That is a lot of length for anyone to deal with.

It is these situations where the Magic have to be better. Everyone is standing still and because the Magic decided to isolate Vucevic on the block, there is no outlet for him.

One adjustment the Magic must make from the first two games is to find off-ball movement into open space where they can get outlets from double teams and traps.

Toronto trapped a little in Game 1, switching more in that game. But they leaned into it more in Game 2. The Raptors swarmed the Magic at every turn and the pressure made it almost impossible for the Magic even to get the ball into the post for Vucevic.

Vucevic then has to do a better job anticipating where the traps are coming from. Too often, he goes into his move without seeing where the trap is coming from, isolating himself where he has no outlet or going directly into the trap.

One turnover in Game 2 happened when Evan Fournier cut down the baseline after an entry pass and Kyle Lowry simply stayed on Nikola Vucevic instead of following Evan Fournier to the opposite corner. The Magic may have to eliminate those actions and clear space another way.

As fine as Vucevic was in the post in the regular season, he has been poor in the playoffs — 0.33 points per possession on 3.0 post-up possessions per game, according to NBA.com’s statistics database.

Orlando needs to find a way to get Vucevic deeper post position and then Vucevic has to attack quickly before the double can come. When the double does come, the Magic have to do a better job cutting to open space the double leaves behind.