Orlando Magic All-Star Grades: Nikola Vucevic was there

Nikola Vucevic nearly took home the Skills Challenge trophy at the All-Star Game. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
Nikola Vucevic nearly took home the Skills Challenge trophy at the All-Star Game. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports /

Centers are not supposed to do well in All-Star games.

Guards hold and control the ball. It is a game that they dominate. They ultimately decide whether to pass to big men who do not initiate offense for the most part.

Besides even for shooting big men, it is a physical job. And this is not a physical game. This is not anything close to that. Nobody would fault big men for taking the night off.

Nikola Vucevic looked for his pockets to shoot and he was not afraid to do so. But this was not his game to showcase his talent. If he had made his 3-pointers, maybe the world would have seen how special Nikola Vucevic has been for the Orlando Magic this season.

As things stand though, Vucevic was more active and at least locked down the glass. Yay?

Nikola Vucevic was relatively quiet in his second All-Star Game. He missed plenty of 3-pointers showing at least he was willing to fire away when open. And he nearly won the Skills Challenge.

The night belonged to the shooters. From Stephen Curry winning the 3-point contest to Damian Lillard’s half-court shot — one of three total in the game with Lillard and Curry taking turns to end the first half with long-range shots that looked surprisingly comfortable — that ended the game 170-150 in favor of Team LeBron.

Vucevic finished with five points and seven rebounds. He made only two of his six shots, including one of his five 3-pointers. His first points came in the final minute of the second quarter when James Harden deflected a shot with his shin and it trickled to Nikola Vucevic trailing the play for a dunk.

That is just the kind of game it was for Vucevic. He did not really seem to put much effort on getting below the 3-point line on either side of the ball. Not that anyone would notice.

Team LeBron took the lead early in the first quarter and never looked back. Their 3-point barrage was too much for the relatively disorganized version of Team Durant.

That is partly because the team was missing Joel Embiid and Anthony Davis, two MVP candidates. Team LeBron was just the better team.

Vucevic at least put on a good showing in the Skills Challenge. There, at least, his skills were largely on display.

He made quick work of Robert Covington in the first round by flying easily through the course. He took advantage of Chris Paul missing his layup to beat the All-Star guard in the second round.

With the lead on Domantas Sabonis in the final round though, Nikola Vucevic was unable to make either of his attempts. Sabonis went for volume firing quickly and hitting on his third attempt while Vucevic’s second attempt was in the air.

The moment was fun while it lasted. As was the breather everyone surely got from the All-Star weekend.

NIKOLA VUCEVIC. C. . C. Team Durant

Nikola Vucevic said he thought he would be more comfortable in his second All-Star appearance now that he had a feel for how the game is played and what his role might be. That certainly seemed true. Vucevic knew to stay out of the way of the guards and just hand on the perimeter. He got plenty of opportunities to shoot from doing so. The shots just would not go in, whether it was from being overeager or just the half-speed he seemed to be playing at.

No one should be upset that he was playing at half speed. The goal, first and foremost, was to get out of the game healthy. He did that. And at least he was the most dominant rebounder on his team, not that there were many rebounds to collect. Vucevic scored when he got the ball near the basket and got open. That is better than he did two years ago. It just did not give any results.

NIKOLA VUCEVIC. A-. . Runner-Up. Skills Challenge

Experience matters when it comes to the Taco Bell Skills Challenge, and it showed. The two most important elements in the competition, aside from taking it with some level of seriousness, are completing the pass through the hoop in one try and hitting that final 3-pointer as quickly as possible. Vucevic was at least perfect on getting the pass done. His 3-point shooting on this night needed some work.

Nikola Vucevic made his first three in the win over Robert Covington to make quick work in the first round. He needed two 3-pointers to topple Chris Paul. But he just did not have the speed to shoot quick enough to overcome Sabonis, last year’s runner-up. Sabonis was able to get his shots up quicker than Vucevic and beat him to the punch in the end.

Dunk Contest. ANFERNEE SIMONS. B+. . Winner

Special shoutout to Altamonte Springs-native Anfernee Simons. The Edgewater High School alum showed off his athleticism and his preternatural hops in the NBA’s halftime Dunk Contest. It lacked all the pomp and circumstance of a typical dunk contest, but Simons helped put on a show and was a worthy winner with a trio of dunks, even if they lacked some panache.

Two of Simons’ dunks deserve special recognition for their callbacks to former Orlando Magic players. Simons donned a white Toronto Raptors Tracy McGrady jersey to do a copy of one of McGrady’s dunks from the 2000 Draft. He then attempted a kiss-the-rim dunk, something Dwight Howard was reportedly planning on doing if he advanced in the 2007 Dunk Contest.

This was not the best dunk contest in NBA history. All of Aaron Gordon’s dunks from last year were better than anything anybody did (Anfernee Simons’ kiss-the-rim dunk was perhaps the only truly special dunk). But Simons was great and provided some momentary entertainment for a halftime show.

Next. Magic Draft Big Board 1.0: It's time to start. dark

The Magic will return to practice Wednesday from the All-Star Break. They get back to action Thursday in Miami against the Miami Heat.