Orlando Magic 2022 NBA Draft Preview: Nikola Jovic is more than just his name

May 17, 2022; Chicago, IL, USA; An overall shot during the 2022 NBA Draft Lottery at McCormick Place. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports
May 17, 2022; Chicago, IL, USA; An overall shot during the 2022 NBA Draft Lottery at McCormick Place. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports /

There is an obsession with versatility and length in the NBA today.

Orlando Magic fans do not need to be told about that. They do not need another lecture on length, on being able to defend multiple positions and all the rest of the draft fixations.

The league has undoubtedly trended in that direction.

It is positionless basketball. The only positions that matter are the positions you can defend. That is the focus of every draft. The players that rocket up draft boards are the ones who show they can check multiple boxes on the checklist.

It is leading to more and more incredible players — and incredibly skilled players — entering the league and redefining what is valuable.

If there was a super strong case to pick Chet Holmgren with the first overall pick, it is this versatility and collection of skills that entices everyone. He is not alone of course. The league is scouring for players like him.

They will not let another Nikola Jokic slip through the cracks. Offensively, teams are ready to rethink how they create their offense and how they use these players with non-traditional skills.

It is certainly a more skilled league than ever before. And taller players have to be able to do more and more.

That is why Nikola Jovic has cemented his first-round status. The NBA will not let another Jokic slip through the cracks again. And Jovic is going to benefit from it.

Nikola Jovic is an intriguing big man prospect who plays like a guard and has all the skills and versatility the league loves. Jovic is more than just his name and someone to watch.

He is a 6-foot-10 forward from Serbia who can seemingly do it all offensively. He averaged 12.0 points per game and 4.8 rebounds per game in all competitions for MEGA Basket. He shot 33.3-percent from beyond the arc in all competitions.

He graduated from the junior team to the senior team last year, averaging 11.7 points per game and shooting 35.6-percent from beyond the arc in 27.8 minutes per game once he got there.

Back in 2021 at the FIBA U19 World Cup, he averaged 18.1 points per game and 8.3 rebounds per game leading Serbia to a fourth-place finish. Of note in that tournament, he scored 15 points and grabbed six rebounds in the semifinal loss to France (he missed all six of his 3-pointers and, of note, Victor Wembanyana played only nine minutes in the game).

The numbers do not quite capture what makes Jovic so special though.

Jovic is truly a guard in a big man’s body. He is adept at attacking the basket off the dribble and driving off close-outs. This is where his athleticism really comes into play. He can finish hard with a dunk or create layups with touch around the basket.

His movement is super fluid for a guy his size and he makes quick decisive drives when the lane opens up for him.

But he really has all the skills of a guard. He is skilled at creating his own shot off the dribble. He displayed plenty of step-backs and dribble moves to create shots and highlights.

His teams have used him as a guard. So even in a world where there are no positions, Jovic still stands out. He would be ordinary if he were 6-foot-6. But because he is 6-foot-10, he stands out.

All eyes are on him and that helps highlight his flaws.

Jovic is great at creating for himself. But he still has to improve as a passer and playmaker. Teams ran him in some limited pick and rolls and he has all the passing tools and capabilities. But this is something he will need to continue to develop.

His 3-point shot also shows a lot of hints of being there. But the percentages still have to rise. But he has all that capability.

Offensively, Jovic can do just about anything. Or at least he can potentially do anything. And that is the part that is super exciting for Jovic.

But there are the other parts of his game that are concerning. Especially defensively.

Jovic is known in draft circles for being a negative defender — not just a bad defender, but a really bad defender. There just is not a lot to get excited about him defensively.

He averaged 0.5 blocks per game in all competitions last year. So he is a big who is not a great shot blocker.

That is fine, he essentially played guard. But the tape is not kind either.

He got beat off the dribble as he struggled to switch his hips and guard changes of direction. Quicker guards just blew by him and got to the basket at will. Jovic is not able to stay in front of smaller, quicker players.

Coming around screens, Jovic struggled to anticipate screens and get around them while staying connected to his man. He was constantly trailing and unable to keep up with players as they come around screens.

He is a bit better off the ball where his size causes problems on the perimeter and closes passing lanes. But Jovic has to improve as an on-ball defender and a perimeter defender.

The NBA is a bit bigger and the league will likely use him as a forward rather than a guard as they did for his club team. He probably slides in as a stretch-4 in the NBA. But it would still behoove teams to keep him on the perimeter.

In a league that is getting increasingly full of oversized players doing what guards do, there does seem to be value in having more size on the ball and more capabilities to go bigger with skilled players. The Magic certainly believe in that philosophy considering the players they have drafted.

Jovic fits that modern philosophy. Teams will have a lot of fun playing around with putting him on different spots on the floor. He is more than capable as an offensive player to attack the basket and score in bunches. If his 3-point shot continues to improve, he will be able to make teams pay from deep.

But in the NBA, your position is who you can defend. And that is the bigger question for Jovic.

Can he improve his defense enough to play himself onto the court and take advantage of his offensive skills? Those offensive skills are impressive, but the question will be whether they stand out in the NBA as much as they did in Eurobasket and his domestic league in Serbia.

Defense is the key to everything. And Jovic cannot be such a negative on the court defensively. That is why a player who has clear Lottery offensive talent is being considered in the 20s in this draft class (a relatively weak draft class at that).

Jovic fits the modern NBA for his versatility. He is a guard in a forward’s body and that is going to serve him well. That is an offensive trait the NBA has sought.

Next. Debunking the myths about Paolo Banchero. dark

The question will be how Jovic fits the rest of the puzzle.