Nikola Vucevic brought on a resurgence in Orlando this past season. The Magic went six seasons without an All-Star or a playoff berth until Vucevic helped deliver both this past season.
His fit with Porzingis in Dallas makes sense in theory, but his price tag might make the Mavericks shift their focus elsewhere.
At 7’ 260 lb., Vucevic is the model of a sturdy center who does work in the post and cleans the glass well. For his career, Vucevic averages 10.1 rebounds per game and last year that number went up to 12 — a new career high. His offensive numbers improved last year as he set career highs in points per game (20.8), 3 point shooting (36.4 percent on 2.9 3PA), eFG% (54.9), and assists per game (3.8).
Born in Switzerland, Vucevic was raised in Belgium and his parents’ home country of Montenegro before moving to California for high school. He played at USC for three years before being drafted by the 76ers in 2011. After his rookie year, Philadelphia traded Vucevic to Orlando as part of the four-team trade that send Dwight Howard to the Lakers, Andre Iguodala to the Nuggets, and Andrew Bynum (!) to the 76ers.
Internationally, Vucevic plays for Montenegro’s national team and is the only current NBA player on the team. The 28-year-old speaks Serbian, French, and English. Oh look — two of those three languages he has in common with Luka Doncic.
Rebounding might be Vucevic’s greatest asset on the court. Per 100 possessions, Vucevic averages 17 rebounds for his career. Last season his defensive rebound percentage was 31.9 and his total rebound percentage was 20.5 percentage. For a little context, DeAndre Jordan’s defensive rebound percentage last year in Dallas was 35.9 percent.
His strengths don’t stop at rebounding; Vucevic excels as a passer. You may remember this very sad tweet from the Magic last year about Shelvin Mack leading the team in assists with a paltry 3.9 per game. Nikola Vucevic was just 0.5 assists per game shy of leading the team in dimes in the 2017-18 season.
Shooting is the last strength of Vucevic’s game. Last year he improved his three-point percentage to a career-high 36.4 percent on 231 total attempts. Before last season, Vucevic had attempted just 305 triples in those seven previous seasons. Of those 305, 204 came in the 2017-18 season.
In 2016-17 Vucevic started taking one three-pointer a game and shot 30.7%. The next year he attempted 3.6 per game and hit 31.4%. This year something clicked and Vucevic appears to now be a legitimate shooter, but it might be too soon to definitively make that conclusion.
Defensively, Vucevic isn’t a good rim protector. He also isn’t a great individual defender in the post, but he is serviceable down low. In the playoffs against Toronto he got exposed, as did that entire Orlando team. To be fair, the Raptors gave every team problems, but Vucevic was completely shut down.
Players like Vucevic often get played off the floor in the playoffs with the wings dominating so much. The thought of handing out a lofty contract to the type of player who won’t be on the floor in the critical moments of the playoffs should make NBA fans unnerved.
Finally, last season Vucevic shot well from three, but it was his first season showing he could consistently hit from deep. That’s not enough of a sample size to see if this uptick in shooting will stick or if it was a single season anomaly.
Fit with the Mavericks
On paper, Vucevic brings a lot of strengths you want in a front court partner to Porzingis. He would take the physical punishment from stronger bigs in the post that Porzingis likely wouldn’t withstand. Dallas also needs a strong rebounder next to Porzingis, which might be Vucevic’s best strength.
Offensively, Vucevic was most effective on shots when he touched the ball for less than 2 seconds. Most of his offense in the Dallas system would come either as a spot up shooter or a rim runner, both of which result in shots where Vucevic holds the ball for less than 2 seconds. Last season he posted a 57.2 percent true shooting percentage on such shots.
Though Vucevic looks like a great fit on paper it would be difficult to justify prioritizing spending the bulk of the Mavericks’ cap space on a player who likely will likely get played off the floor in the playoffs.
If Vucevic can be signed for somewhere in the 10-12 million per year range, then Dallas should pounce on that deal. It’s not likely Vucevic will be had for that price but the center position is a mercenary’s job nowadays. Spending top dollar on a player like Vucevic when Dallas already has Porzingis doesn’t make financial sense.
Dallas has more pressing needs to focus on this summer and would be better served putting their money towards a few mid-level players than on one player like Vucevic.