2021 Orlando Magic First Quarter MVP: Nikola Vucevic is demanding a whole lot more

Nikola Vucevic has taken his game to a higher level as the Orlando Magic try to stay afloat in the playoff race. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Nikola Vucevic has taken his game to a higher level as the Orlando Magic try to stay afloat in the playoff race. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images) /

Jonathan Isaac perfectly encapsulated Nikola Vucevic when he met with the media Friday after the team’s shootaround.

Nikola Vucevic is a quiet player who does things in a nondescript way. He does not have the hops or the flashy skills that grab everyone’s attention. Playing in a relatively small market like Orlando probably does not do a whole lot in the way of seeking attention.

But people around the league know the kind of work Vucevic is doing. And especially his teammates understand the ways he makes their job easier and the ways his game has continued to grow even a decade into his NBA career.

If anything, Isaac said, the disappointment within the roster is that they cannot do more for him.

Isaac, of course, is out with an injury. He is not able to be on the floor to help his teammates and help them achieve their ultimate goal — climbing the Eastern Conference ladder, getting out of the first round and creating a path toward winning a title eventually.

That has been the thing eating him the most while he recovers from a torn ACL suffered inside the NBA bubble in August. He cannot be on the floor.

But other players on the Orlando Magic certainly feel the same way.

Injuries were the story of the first quarter of the season. Markelle Fultz went out for the year with a torn ACL, dimming a bright light that seemed to give the Magic a tremendous boost early in the season. Evan Fournier missed eight games with back spasms. Michael Carter-Williams has been out since early January. Chuma Okeke got knocked out with a bone bruise to his surgically repaired knee. Al-Farouq Aminu is still dealing with his knee injury from last season.

Through it all, Vucevic has just kept his work up. He has increased his workload actually, adding more to his game and staking a claim to an All-Star spot.

Vucevic is a potential NBA All-Star once again, posting numbers seemingly better than his 2019 All-Star campaign and expanding his skill set.

The only thing that might keep Vucevic out of the All-Star Game is that lack of flash and the Magic’s record. A Magic team that is hanging around .500 and on the outskirts of the playoff race might still find it difficult to get the notice he requires for the game.

Nikola Vucevic expanded his offensive repertoire once again and has taken his game to a whole different level of stardom. The Magic will need him to do a whole lot more.

But Vucevic has taken his game to another level this year. He has raised expectations for himself. He has demanded a lot more attention and a lot more responsibility.

The first quarter of the season has possibly reframed Vucevic’s expectations for himself and his role. The team needs and expects a lot more from him and he seems capable of rising up to it.

Without a doubt, in a first quarter of the season that was so full of upheaval and instability, Vucevic was the guiding rock for the team. He turned his doubters into admirers and turned a near-decade of waiting for the next thing into an appreciation for his consistency.

There is even a small movement online of fans who want to trade Vucevic not because they dislike him as a player anymore but because they want him to contribute to a winning team while he is still in his prime.

The trade deadline always looms and will come shortly after the league takes an All-Star Break. Vucevic’s name always comes up around that time. And he will certainly have some value — two years and $46 million (declining) after this season.

But this is not about Vucevic’s future quite yet. There will be plenty of time to discuss that.

The narrative about Vucevic changed this year because of the way he has played. And the Magic are going to need him to continue growing and expanding upon a stellar first run through the season.

In the first quarter of the season, Vucevic averaged 23.5 points per game and 11.1 rebounds per game with 3.7 assists per game. That would be a career-high in scoring and among the top seasons of his career in rebounding and passing.

He shot 48.7-percent from the floor and an incredible 43.5-percent from beyond the arc on 6.4 attempts per game. The 3-point attempts were by far the most of his career and the biggest expansion of his game.

Vucevic has proven himself time and time again to be a great outlet and the only consistent offensive option for the team. If anything, the Magic need to find a way to get him more involved. As Jeff Turner has often said on the Magic’s television broadcast, Vucevic probably needs to take more shots and more control over the offense.

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  • Vucevic, for the record, took 19.5 field goal attempts per game in the first quarter of the season. That is by far the most of his career.

    His post-ups have increased, as has his efficiency — 0.94 points per possession on 4.6 post-up possessions per game. He is one of the best catch-and-shoot big men in the league too — leading the league with 12.1 points per game on catch-and-shoot opportunities with a 61.5-percent effective field goal percentage.

    It is hard to find anything Vucevic was poor at in the first quarter of the season.

    The only thing he has not done is ascend to greater stardom.

    It feels impossible to ask Vucevic to do more after seemingly taking a huge leap this year. He became the offensive force the Magic needed to pair with a fast-paced point guard in Markelle Fultz. The Magic seemed to have found a corner to turn and improve upon.

    The injuries have only put more on Vucevic’s plate. And while he remains ever efficient and able to score seemingly at will.

    Of course, the Magic need more. Stars already carry increased burdens. They have to be consistent every night and find ways to lift their teams beyond themselves. And sometimes they have to take over games.

    If the Magic are going to be successful this year, they need Vucevic to carry that burden. They somehow need him to do more.

    When the team’s offense is stuck and struggling, they need him to be the outlet that gets them going again, making easy shots and making the offense work through his force of will. It seems the team needs Vucevic to do everything.

    In the second quarter of the season, the Magic will need Vucevic to take his game to yet another level. He has to be willing to carry the team to wins and through the rough times. He will need to be consistent every single night and do more than put up big numbers.

    Vucevic has already delivered a lot for the Magic. He will have to do a lot more.

    Next. Orlando Magic trying to get their defense back. dark

    That is the burden of a star player. A burden Vucevic is only just starting to bear.