Nikola Vucevic was essentially thrown into the Dwight Howard deal as a high-upside, albeit relatively raw prospect.
That said, the second-year Montenegrin center has proven far more polished and NBA-ready than originally anticipated by the Orlando Magic, as he’s immediately assumed the starting role at center and performed exceptionally.
On opening night, Vucevic played 16 minutes against the Denver Nuggets, recording 6 points, 4 rebounds and 2 blocks. He demonstrated patience within the offense and proved extremely effective defensively against Denver’s bigs.
An opening performance which proved just enough to earn Vucevic the starting nod for the teams next outing against the Phoenix Suns. Vucevic embraced the opportunity, posting a staggering 18 points and 13 rebounds in 37 minutes of play, while shooting a commendable 9-of-16 from the field.
Following their win over Phoenix, Vucevic has become a fixture in the Magic’s starting rotation, and has since gone on to post two more double-doubles in the following four losses – most recently a 14-point and 12-rebound outing in a loss to the Brooklyn Nets Sunday night.
However, in two of those four losses, Vucevic posted very pedestrian average of 6 points and 4.5 rebounds in 25 minutes. Whereas he lit up the stat line in the other two with averages of 15 points and 11 rebounds in 41 minutes of play.
Looking at those stats two things clearly stand out: a disparity in minutes and in production. Of which the numbers were victims to overall team performance and a lack of consistent shooting from Vucevic himself; although, I don’t think a lack of consistency(39.5FG% in losses) this early in the season is any reason to get down on the tremendous impact Vucevic has had with Orlando’s front court.
He’s averaging a solid 11 points, 8 rebounds and a block per game in 30 minutes. And those averages should only continue trending upward Orlando’s team chemistry improves.
If he improves his field goal percentage and shows more consistency on a nightly basis, he could very well find himself in the conversation for this years most improved player moving forward.