Nikola Vucevic is in the Orlando Magic’s background no more

Nikola Vucevic scored a career-high 43 points carrying the Orlando Magic to a much-needed win. (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)
Nikola Vucevic scored a career-high 43 points carrying the Orlando Magic to a much-needed win. (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images) /

24. 123. 38. Final. 119

When the Orlando Magic acquired Nikola Vucevic in the summer of 2012, he was hardly the most notable player moved in the deal. It was the Dwight Howard trade after all and All-Stars in Andre Iguodala and Andrew Bynum also changed teams in the deal.

None of those players came to the Magic, of course. The most notable player they acquired in the deal was probably journeyman Arron Afflalo or maybe even one of the potential picks or trade exception the Magic created in the deal.

This was a complete rebuild. The Magic were going to go through that first season with whatever they could and try to reap the rewards in the Draft for the next few seasons.

Nikola Vucevic, acquired in that franchise-changing trade, was probably not even the most hyped young player acquired in the trade. Maurice Harkless was probably generating a tone more excitement.

Vucevic is typically a quiet guy. His consistent play always did the talking, but never loud enough to make anyone notice. The Magic seemingly acquired him as something of a placeholder.

His nightly double-doubles were always impressive but never enough for the team to shift the way it thinks about itself. There was always a flashy new toy to play with and build around — at least until it was no longer needed. The team at one point even seemed to be pusing him out the door until he quietly beat — or outlasted — his potential high-priced replacements.

Vucevic always worked in the background. He put up solid numbers and got incrementally better. But never good enough to break through the noise.

No more. The Orlando Magic want it to be known loud and clear just how good Vucevic is. He is nobody’s secret anymore.

The usually quiet Nikola Vucevic is speaking louder than ever with his play as he poured in a career-high 43 points to continue a career season for the Orlando magic center. One everyone hopes ends with All-Star recognition.

The Magic and his teammates want Vucevic in the All-Star Game.

"“Before I say anything, vote for Vooch for All-Star,” Cole Anthony said to open his postgame press availaiblity. “That man deserves to be an All-Star. He’s the best big in the league. Come on, man, what are we doing?”"

Vucevic has always let his game do the talking. The usually reserved center had a dryer sense of humor and is not making tons of highlight plays over the course of a game. His game is all solid footwork in the post and pops to space for open jumpers.

Vucevic was not among the top-10 Eastern Conference frontcourt players in All-Star voting during the first returns released earlier this week. Vucevic is not one to grumble about it but Magic fans — and it seems even some teammates — certainly did.

Anthony said the players are talking about promoting their big man and trying to do their part to get the word out for Vucevic.

Loud and clear

What Nikola Vucevic did might speak louder than anything else.

In his first game since those returns came out, Vucevic scored a career-high 43 points to go with 19 rebounds in the Orlando Magic’s 123-119 win over the Chicago Bulls. He made four of his 10 3-pointers and 17 of his 29 shots. He worked the Bulls’ post defenders and once the double scame, he passed it quickly to the perimeter.

Vucevic had 15 points in the first quarter before the Bulls could really adjust. The whole defense was focused on him from teh beginning and he just took them apart.

More importantly, unlike many other milestone games Vucevic has had including his previous career high, he did so in a win at a time when the Magic are desperate for wins. Throughout much of the game he carried and then in addition to being something of the team’s closer, becoming the catalyst for the Magic’s offense as they held on for a 123-119 win.

"“I wanted to come out aggressive and set the tone a little bit,” Vucevic said, deferring to teammates and preparation. “I feel like it has been a tough stretch for us. The two day break was good for us. Tonight, we were good. i could just feel it from the pregame preparationa nd the warmup that guys had good energy. I just wanted to come out and hopefully lead the way in a positive way.”"

Vucevic said the team’s spirit was good throughout the course of the game. There was definitely a bit of a refresh from the days off.

Still, the Magic needed the confidence to get back to winning. And Vucevic has always been the team’s security blanket offensively.

Vucevic’s lack of flash is largely because he drifts into open space, often working in the holes of the defense created by others. He ran pick and rolls early in the game with Cole Anthony, who had a career-high nine assists, to set up deep in the post or to get open from beyond the arc.

None of this is new, Vucevic has put up steady numbers throughout his career. What has changed though is his 3-point shooting. That has turned his good numbers into great numbers.

"“I don’t think he is actually any different,” Evan Fournier said after Friday’s game. “I think it’s his 3-point shooting. That’s the key. When you compare his play from last year or two years ago. That’s the key. He has always been dominant down low hen he catches the ball in the paint. This year, that quick three at the top of the key, that’s a game changer.”"

He is averaging a career-high 23.4 points per game, making 43.1-percent from beyond the arc at 2.6 per game. He is taking more threes than ever before and making them more efficiently.

Lest you think it is just the 3-point shooting that has changed Vucevic, he entered Friday’s game scoring 0.91 points per possession on post-ups on 4.5 post-up possessions per game. He averaged 0.82 point sper possession on 3.8 per game last year and 0.93 points per possession on 5.4 post-up possessions per game during his All-Star 2019 season.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

During Vucevic’s All-Star year in 2019, Vucevic averaged 20.8 points and 12.0 rebounds per game on 54.9-percent effective field goal percentage.

What really stood out from that season though was ihs consistency. His ability to step out and confidently hit 3-pointers though has taken his game to the next level.

Vucevic is starting to hit rarified air of attention and consistency again.

"“Honestly I think it would mean even more than the first time I did it,” Vucevic said after Friday’s win. “It is very difficult to make the All-Star. It’s hard to achieve. If I were able to do it twice, it would be a huge honor. I just have to continue to play at a high level. Hopefully, we can get some wins and that would help me. My focus is on this team and on my game. Hopefully, that takes care of it.”"

Center of attention

Defenses are beginning to change their approach to him, sending doubles hard at him and from different angles the moment he touches the ball in the post. There may be little they can do on those pick and pops but they are not letting him burn them near the basket.

Nikola Vucevic is still working on adjusting to this added level of attention. At his core, he is about doing what is best for the team. He still wants to get his teammates involved and do what is best for them.

Vucevic still wants to recede somewhat into the background. He wants to be the support and the team.

Right now, the team just wants to push Vucevic forward and make sure he gets there recognition he deserves. If anything, they might feel the failure for Vucevic to get into the All-Star game is partly their failure for struggling as a group.

"“We have to get wins to make sure he can get there,” Fournier said after Friday’s game.”That’s what will allow him to make the All-Star team this year. To really be 100-percent sure, we need a really good record. Hopefully, we can get him there.”"

It all comes back to the team at the end of the day.

But one way or the other, Vucevic is now front and center. There is no going back into the background anymore. This team is going to rely on Vucevic even more than ever. And the team is going to need him to step up.

Next. Orlando Magic need stability from Frank Mason off bench. dark

Vucevic showed again he can have these star-making games and give the Magic their best chance to win.