Nikola Vucevic is having the best season no one is talking about

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Bryan Kalbrosky
·4 min read
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If most fans were asked to answer who currently leads the league in field goals made during the 2020-21 season thus far, few would know that the answer is Orlando Magic big man Nikola Vucevic.

Vucevic, who has now led the Magic to the postseason two years in a row, is arguably having the best season he has ever had. The 7-footer, who was an All-Star recipient in 2019, is currently averaging a career-best of 24.0 points per game. But for whatever reason, this campaign has largely fallen under the radar.

After scoring 42 points while shooting an efficient 17-for-22 from the field on Feb. 12, we wanted to highlight some of the most impressive elements of his game.

Pick-and-pop jumper

Jan 16, 2021; Brooklyn, New York, USA; Orlando Magic center Nikola Vucevic (9) takes a three point shot in the third quarter against the Brooklyn Nets at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit:
Jan 16, 2021; Brooklyn, New York, USA; Orlando Magic center Nikola Vucevic (9) takes a three point shot in the third quarter against the Brooklyn Nets at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit:

Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

Over the last several years, Vucevic has evolved from primarily a post scorer to an incredibly versatile big man. He is still effective near the basket but that no longer defines his game. These days, the Orlando center is far and away at his most productive when shooting after screen and roll actions, finishing on the pick-and-pop. The big man currently leads the league with 124 points on this play type, according to Synergy. That is nearly thirty points more than what LaMarcus Aldridge, who has been the second-best pick-and-pop scorer in 2020-21, has scored thus far. Plus, he has been efficient on these opportunities as well. https://twitter.com/beyondtheRK/status/1355354680784805890?s=20 These plays have helped Vucevic connect on 2.7 three-pointers per game, sinking more than one extra shot per game than he had in his previous best campaign. Considering that many of these possessions are on high pick-and-rolls from the top of the perimeter, these attempts are not just catch-and-shoot jumpers while spotting up in the corner. Vucevic has actually connected on more non-corner three-pointers (73) than everyone in the league except for the following players: Stephen Curry, Damian Lillard, Buddy Hield, Fred VanVleet and Donovan Mitchell. That's some pretty insane company for the big man, who had made just seven three-pointers from his rookie season in 2011 until 2016. Even still, the most encouraging takeaway is that although his shooting output has increased, the big has managed to be more accurate from beyond the arc (43.5 percent) than ever before as well.

Playmaking

Jan 9, 2021; Dallas, Texas, USA; Orlando Magic center Nikola Vucevic (9) in action during the game between the Dallas Mavericks and the Orlando Magic at the American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit:
Jan 9, 2021; Dallas, Texas, USA; Orlando Magic center Nikola Vucevic (9) in action during the game between the Dallas Mavericks and the Orlando Magic at the American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit:

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Another element of his game that stands out for Vucevic is that he has been an above-average ball-handler and playmaker for his position. Vucevic is the NBA's leader in post-up passes (5.4 per game) in 2020-21. He has done a fantastic job valuing the ball and keeping the possessions alive, especially for a high-volume offensive option. There are currently 54 players who have finished at least 400 possessions so far this season, per Synergy, and none have a lower turnover rate than Vucevic. Meanwhile, historically, his distributing has been worth celebrating as well. His assist percentage has ranked in the 70th percentile or better among big men since his first season with Orlando back in 2012, per Cleaning the Glass. Among those same qualifiers, he has ranked in the 87th percentile or better during each of the past six seasons. The only big men who rank better this season are Nikola Jokic, Bam Adebayo and Al Horford. When you talk about frontcourt playmakers, Vucevic is simply someone that needs to be included in those discussions.

Impact on the floor

Jan 6, 2021; Orlando, Florida, USA; Orlando Magic center Nikola Vucevic (9) drives to the basket as Cleveland Cavaliers center Andre Drummond (3) defends during the first quarter at Amway Center.
Jan 6, 2021; Orlando, Florida, USA; Orlando Magic center Nikola Vucevic (9) drives to the basket as Cleveland Cavaliers center Andre Drummond (3) defends during the first quarter at Amway Center.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

On the defensive side of the glass, Vucevic has been a difference-maker as well. His defensive rebound percentage (27.6 percent) ranks in the 94th percentile among big men, per Cleaning the Glass. Vucevic has been a double-double machine, accomplishing this feat in eighteen games so far this season. The only players who have more double-doubles this year are Jokic, Domantis Sabonis and Rudy Gobert. As a defensive stopper, Vucevis's steal numbers (1.1 spg) fall as the highest mark that he has ever recorded as well. Although his defensive on-off splits leave something to be desired, many advanced statistics confirm how well he has been playing. Vucevic stacks up well in catch-all measurements like box plus-minus (eighth-best), value over replacement player (fifth-best) and RealGM's floor impact counter (fifth-best). [lawrence-related id=1269115] [listicle id=1454523]

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