Tbird 2011 NBA draft analysis #7: Nikola Vucevic
Written by thunderbird1245
The NBA draft profiles roll on, with tonights in depth study of USC Center Nikola Vucevic up next. I’ve previously broken down Alec Burks, Klay Thompson, Tristan Thompson, Jordan Hamilton, Chris Singleton, and Marcus Morris. Burks and Singleton I was obviously very high on, the other four I was not particularly thrilled about and didn’t project them as a good fit for us. Now the question for this preview is, in which category will Vucevic fall into? Find out below…..
Vucevic checked in at the NBA combine with outstanding measureables, as he turned out to be a little bigger than he looked on tape. 6’11 3/4 in height, with an almost 7’5 wingspan. While not exactly a tower of strength, he did weigh in at 260lbs, which is about right for his height in a professional basketball player. Along with Enos Kanter, Vucevic is clearly a legitimate NBA center in terms of size and ability, a tough thing to come by in this day and age.At only age 20, he still has plenty of time to improve and grow into his body.
It merits mentioning that Vucevic has a very solid basketball background. Originally from Montenegro, his father Borislav was a very good player in Europe for over 20 years. You can see a certain awareness and savvy in Nikola that comes from spending alot of time watching and learning his father’s fundamentally strong game, and from being around professional athletes from a young age.
Vucevic has clearly been coached well and is mature from a mental standpoint. While he clearly has many issues, his college coach Kevin O’Neill has an NBA pedigree and background, and had Vucevic preparing himself doing NBA drills and hearing NBA terms and tips his entire time under his tutelage.. Plus playing for Kevin, we also know for a fact that there is no curse word in the English language that Vucevic hasn’t heard! No question that Vucevic has been coached hard and coached well in college and long before then.
We all know the stereotype…”Euro” big man: soft, finesse, etc etc And I think that way of thinking in someways is hurting his draft stock, because to me if you go by sheer talent and potential, Vucevic should be rated much higher. As it is, I believe he is climbing and will go very near our 15th pick, if not before.
Let’s put him under the Tbird microscope from an offensive perspective first.
Vucevic is the best back to the basket player in this draft long term in my opinion. Already he has very nice touch going to either shoulder, and with his length and sheer size he will have no issues getting his shot off. He already possesses one major NBA weapon right now, which his jump hook, a shot he can make with either hand on either side of the floor. His foot work once he catches the basketball is very sound, and he clearly has been taught very well to be able to move so nimbly in a variety of ways and positions. He has nice coordination, he isn’t clumsy and awkward like alot of young big men are. He has a variety of moves besides his jump hook if need be, and while they all need to be done with more force and physicality, the skill level is there right now.
While I think his footwork is good WITH the basketball, it has to get a little stronger before he gets it. He doesn’t always post hard or deep enough, and shorter defenders can get into his lower back and push him off the spot. However, contrary to popular belief, the college game is much more physical inside than the NBA, and some of this shoving into his kidney area will be called at the pro level. Still, he needs to get more physical before the ball gets to his hands, and pin guys a step deeper than he currently usually does.
He has the face up/perimeter game all coaches ideally like in todays NBA game. He can make the 20 foot jump shot currently right now, which will make him a nightmare to guard for big men in pick/pop situations and as a floor spacer. In fact, I project he will be one of the better perimeter “5″ men in the league as a standstill jump shooter within a couple of seasons, if his playing time and situation allows him to develop that.
Unlike most bigs who are somewhat perimeter oriented, Vucevic can actually dribble the ball one time if need be. I don’t think he is a threat to drive all the way to the rim or anything, but eventually I think he will have the skill to pump fake on hard closeout defenders, and be able to take a bounce away from them and make a shot off the dribble. Very few 7 foot players can do that, but I think as long as it is a simple straight forward move (no spin dribbles, quick ball handling or fading away like Dirk for instance) that he will be able to make that shot.
He just has such good fundamentals that he was fun to break down. Small things like always showing a big high target for his passers, patience once he caught the basketball, the ability to play at the mid post, the ability to have such good footwork in the pick/pop, make him potentially a very nice player at the NBA level on the offensive side of the floor. Unlike my last breakdown of Jordan Hamilton (who I absolutely hated watching play), I enjoyed watching Vucevic offensively.
Now, keep in mind that he is primarily going to be a half court guy. Vucevic can’t run the floor well, so you won’t see him doing anything as a high flyer on a break or as a rim runner. There will be no alley oop passes that are successful to him. I do think if used properly in the right system that he can help a running team by being a very nice trailer on secondary breaks, being a guy who the defense has to closeout on hard to the top of the circle.* Once he develops NBA 3 point range, that could be a nice asset for him to have, as long as he doesn’t fall in love with it.
Where most players like Vucevic’s typical stereotype lose most of us is on the glass. I can tell you that early on I was also assuming he’d be a rebounding softy….happily I found I was wrong.* In addition to the 17pts a game he averaged for USC, he also managed to get over 10 rebounds a game.
Vucevic isn’t Charles Oakley or Dale Davis or anything, but he does go after the basketball well. He is a blockout guy, who is so long and big he engulfs rebounds on the defensive glass just by being huge. Clearly he was taught well at a young age to block out, and to get a wide base while doing so. You’d think he might be a guy who gets shoved under the rim alot being a little thin, but that isn’t a problem for him….he gets his but down and both hands high, and he gets balls that are within his area at a high rate. He isn’t a guy who is quick and slithery or skies way up in the air to rebound like the truly elite rebounders in the NBA, but he does block out almost every time, and he gets the balls he is supposed to get. One criticism I have is that he doesn’t outlet the ball as well as I’d like him to, but then again USC was very halfcourt oriented and not looking to run much, so I am not sure if he really has that area as a problem or not.
He doesn’t project to be a dominant defensive rebounder or anything, but it will hardly be a weakness. His offensive glass work isn’t as good as you’d like, but that is somewhat explained by a variety of factors. First, he is on the perimeter alot. Second, he is admittedly slow. And third, he doesn’t follow his own shot very well. In a way that last one doesn’t bug me as bad as it may others….he shoots it like he expects it to go in instead of miss! Still, his lack of sheer athleticism and quickness off the ground into the air likely means he will never be a great or even good offensive rebounder. Vucevic will be on the whole an average rebounder probably, not dominant but not soft as charmin like so many others are….at least he is big and plays with a pretty high motor on the glass, unlike many other clumsy soft bigs we see bouncing around the league.
Well, he sounds really solid as an offensive player….as rare as big skilled mature offensive big men are, why is he projected in the mid to late first round?
The answer is defensively clearly.
Guarding other big guys his size or close isn’t a huge issue at this time. He tries to fight for position, and even though he can be weak at times and give ground, he is so huge that it is still very difficult to shoot over him. He has to be careful defensively to not get pushed in deeply, but normally he is strong enough to not let that happen.
He does a good job not giving up angles, and being a smart defender against back to the basket moves. Many young players foul alot (as much as I liked Chris Singleton in this draft, he fouls a ton and that is a concern with him), but Vucevic really doesn’t. He just stays in front, doesn’t leave his feet, and plays within his own capabilities. Against a similar back to the basket slower center inside the painted area, he will be fine I think.
He will have major work to do when he has to rotate to people, closeout, and especially guard the ball screen. Vucevic isn’t clumsy or lazy, but he is just slow. He doesn’t bend his knees very much and he has “low torque”…meaning he doesn’t start/stop well. Way too upright when trying to hedge, and because of that his coaches had to plan around him, which means as a staff your defensive game plan is limited with him in the game.* He is going to primarily need to be a “stay at home” defender, and even then he is going to be a guy who the offense doesn’t fear to attack with the dribble. You aren’t going to be able to use exotic rotations, hedge hard or trap ball screens, or really do anything with alot of aggression defensively with him in the game. And there will be some matchups that will be so unfavorable for him that you’ll just be unable to play him at times.
On the other hand, his offensive skill is going to be pretty good I think in time…..eventually someday I think he might be a good enough back to the basket guy that many teams will have to go double him, and we know he will be a major pick/pop weapon right from jump street. So, a team will have to decide if he fits with their scheme and personnel, and if his offensive strengths will overcome his major defensive flaws for them.
So what do we have Nikola Vucevic? I think we have an offensively skilled versatile big man who in time can be a high level offensive weapon. However, his defensive shortcomings to me mean that his ideal role will be as an off the bench, more minutes than usual back up center, providing a major offensive boost for a team’s second unit. Having said that, he is going to better than roughly half of the NBA starting centers eventually, so he has a good chance of being a pretty decent NBA starting “5″ man for quite a few years. I don’t think he is an all star or anything, but with the right personnel and coaching staff/system in place, I think you could be a good team with him as your starter a few years from now, but that is in an ideal world. That ideal team would need extremely good defenders elsewhere on the floor to compensate for him, and I doubt he is worth that amount of trouble. On my team, he fits best as a really good offensively back up center with a chance to be better than that.
Ok, so what does Indiana do at #15 with him?
Vucevic is a pretty good player I think, especially for this draft. We need a long term back up center badly, and our second unit could use an offensive boost for sure. Backing up Hibbert would mean he could come along slowly and not be rushed, even though I think he can contribute in small doses immediately. If he hits his ceiling, young skilled centers make very good trade bait down the road. I think he will be fairly bad defensively, but we already play with Hibbert so we wouldnt have to play drastically different styles when we substitute. Vucevic is a better rebounder than Hibbert is, so we’d gain a little there when we substituted for our current big man. I wouldn’t complain at all of we made a practical but admittedly “unsexy” selection of Vucevic at #15. He has a great pedigree and background, is a high character kid with skill offensively, and would be a good financial investment to have a back up center on his rookie contract.
I would pick a few other guys first ahead of him that are on our radar, but not many.
Having said that, I am about 90% certain that Indiana will pass on Vucevic. Mainly because I have a pretty good source who tells me Indiana will “for sure” bring Erazem Lorbek over from Europe this season, and that he is “very ready to play and help us right now”. So, if that is true I see no reason to draft Vucevic when other needs can instead be addressed.
Even if my source is incorrect, I still think ultimately Indiana passes, though I think they have to think about it. Ideally I think we’d all like someone more athletic and defensive oriented than Vucevic to fit with our current personnel, and I am guessing our front office agrees with that assessment.
There are people in this draft I like a little better than Vucevic, but not that many. There are scenarios where I suspect he’d be my selection, but I am guessing there will be guys higher on our/my board than him when our turn comes on Thursday June 23. But if we did select him, we should all be pretty satisfied that we got a reasonable good value and pretty good player long term.
If we don’t end up with him, where will he go?
To me he makes* sense for Portland at #21…they would be a high quality good fit, as they play a slower pace there and have concerns up front. New York at #17 would be a nice match, since they love offense there and don’t care that he can’t guard on the perimeter.* Boston at #25 would be another really good landing spot.
If you believe the latest rumors, Philadelphia loves him at #16, as Doug Collins wants to go big and get a center who can space the floor some with alot of pick/pop. If that is true, then perhaps we may get on the phone with the Sixers and see if they want to move a player I loved coming out of Florida but who has been a disappointment to them so far in Mareese Speights.
But I think he ends up with the Houston Rockets when it is all said and done, likely at #14 but perhaps later at #23.
We will see what happens, but I think someone is going to get a nice role player/back up center and maybe borderline starter.
Current NBA comparable: poor man’s Zydrunas Ilgauskus
Former NBA comparable: Luc Longley
As always, the above is just my opinion.