Nikola Vucevic’s Best Season Yet Has Magic in Playoff Mix

    The Magic have picked in the draft lottery every season since 2011, but Nikola Vucevic's career year might change that. Despite struggling after a 10-10

    December 21, 2018

    The Magic have picked in the draft lottery every season since 2011, but Nikola Vucevic’s career year might change that. Despite struggling after a 10-10 start, Orlando is in position to make the playoffs for the first time in six seasons behind its all-around center.

    Vucevic is having his best season ever at the most opportune time for the Magic. He’s averaging 20.6 points per game, which will easily be a career high. His 11.7 rebounds per game are also a career best when diving deeper into the numbers.

    On the defensive end, Vucevic is pulling down rebounds at the third best rate in the league according to basketball-reference.com. His total rebound percentage is also at a career high.

    “I think the way we’ve been playing this year just really helps me show off my skill and use my full set of skills,” Vucevic said in an exclusive interview with Stadium.

    Vucevic added the 3-point shot to his arsenal last season, but he’s shooting it at a far better percentage this season. The center is hitting 40.4 percent of his long-range shots and he would be the second player in NBA history to average 20 points, 11 rebounds and a 40 percent clip from 3-point range on at least three attempts per game should his numbers hold.

    “I think that’s been the biggest change for me because I’ve been able to have a good mix of both in and out,” Vucevic said.

    The Magic are in the thick of the Eastern conference playoff race after 30 games under Head Coach Steven Clifford despite going 4-6 in their last 10 contests. Clifford has brought a directness and accountability to the team, which Vucevic said he prefers.

    “One of the things I do like about Coach Clifford, he’s very direct, he holds people accountable. You want a coach that demands a lot from you,” Vucevic said. “Personally, I really enjoy playing for coaches like that. He’s tough but he’s very fair. He won’t screw you over.”

    Clifford has the Magic fielding one of the league’s better defenses with Vucevic keeping the team functional offensively. The center also serves as one of the team’s best facilitators. His assist rate is the second-best among centers this season. Vucevic is responsible for the second-most points generated from assists on the Magic, according to basketball-reference.com.

    With Orlando having an influx of young players over the last few seasons, Vucevic is one of the team’s veterans at 28. This has pushed him to take on a leadership he previously didn’t look for.

    “I get more comfortable talking to guys, being more of a vocal leader,” Vucevic said. “That’s not something I was always comfortable doing. I try to do it more and more, I think guys respect me more and more since i’ve been playing in the NBA for some many years.”

    Going forward, Orlando will have to find ways to improve when Vucevic isn’t on the floor. His workload isn’t typical for a starting center due to the Magic’s depth in the frontcourt, but the early results aren’t encouraging.

    The Magic also have to address Vucevic’s future this summer. The center will be looking for a big payday after a career season in the beginning on his prime. Orlando has the salary cap space to accomodate Vucevic, but will the Magic hand out a maximum contract to a center when they have young frontcourt players to develop? If Vucevic carries Orlando to the playoffs, the team might have no option other than bringing him back.

    For now, the Magic remain muddled in a battle between the 6th and 10th seeds in the East. Goran Dragic’s injury might push the Heat out of the mix and the Wizards could combust internally at any time. Despite a recent tough stretch, Vucevic said the team still has time to find consistency.

    “We just have to stick to the stuff that worked for us. We do have the tendency to kind of go on and off at times,” Vucevic said. “We just have to try to stay consistent.”

    If Vucevic can keep up his historic play, Orlando might finally re-enter the postseason after a six-year hiatus. Vucevic himself will see the rewards of this season in the summer of 2019.

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