Why Nikola Vučević believes he can help Bulls, Zach LaVine take next step

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K.C. Johnson
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Why Vučević believes he can help Bulls take next step originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

Nikola Vučević took several seconds to compose himself when asked about his feelings to leave the Orlando Magic, showing emotion as he talked about the friendships and his maturation process that occurred over nine seasons.

Don’t mistake that one second for a lack of excitement to join the Bulls.

“I think I can fit right in with the group of guys we have. I think my style of play fits as well. Talking to a lot of players and Coach Donovan, a lot of stuff he wants to run and how he wants to play and how he sees the game of basketball, I can fit right in,” Vučević said via Zoom from San Antonio following the Bulls’ morning shootaround. “I enjoy playing the way that they play. I’ve watched them a lot. We played them when I was in Orlando and I felt they had a good team. So happy to be here, obviously excited. It’s going to take a little bit of time to adjust and for them to adjust to me but looking forward to this first game.”

That happens Saturday night versus the Spurs. The contest affords Vučević his first opportunity to play with Zach LaVine, with whom he shares both an agency and All-Star status.

“He’s a hell of a player, and I’ve heard a lot of great things about him off the court as well. I’m looking forward to getting to know him. On the court, I think our games fit each other,” Vučević said. “A lot that Zach likes to do, I can help him with that. He can help me with a lot of things. I think our two-man game can be very good.

“It’s going to take some time for us to get to know each other and build that chemistry. But I think when you have two high-caliber players and players with high IQ that know how to play the game and play to win, I think it won’t take us long.”

Vučević has known Bulls executive vice president Artūras Karnišovas since Vučević’s draft process coming out of USC. Karnišovas, then a Houston Rockets scout, was part of a group that took Vučević out to dinner.

And his first impression of Billy Donovan is a good one, including feedback from common friends that talked up the Bulls’ coach.

“Our approach to the game, the way we see the game and all that is very similar and I feel like I can fit right in and we got along very well,” Vučević said. “And I think it's something as time goes on, we're gonna build that relationship and it's gonna be great for both of us.”

Vučević thanked the Magic front office for keeping him updated throughout the trade talks, which he said signaled a reset by the Orlando franchise. He believes he’s joining a talented Bulls team.

“You know, a lot of guys that were up and coming. Obviously Zach this year he's part of it, Lauri Markkanen as well, Coby White, and then also I'm a big fan of Tomáš Satoranský -- he's not as young anymore -- but I played against him over the years and then also with national team,” Vučević said. “So a lot of the guys I felt like had a lot of potential and it felt in a similar way kind of like a couple years ago with us in Orlando where we had a bunch of young pieces but you're just missing a little bit. When the trade happened, I felt like I could be a guy that could come in and help us take the next step.

“I feel like my experience and everything can help with some of those guys and feel like they're right there. There's not a lot missing. I think I can help -- and not just me but all the other moves that were made over the deadline. I think getting Daniel Theis is a huge pickup, a great player. I know also 'Chief,' Al-Farouq Aminu came with me here from Orlando. Javonte Green is also a good player for us and Troy Brown. So I think that all those guys can help.”

Vučević hadn’t been cleared to practice Friday but said the intensity and positive energy emanating from the team impressed him. He’s available versus the Spurs. And bringing his 40 percent shooting from 3-point range -- on a high-volume 6.5 attempts per game -- with him.

I was always really good at shooting the midrange. As the game evolved and the 3-pointer became such a huge part of the game, I felt like I had to evolve too. I couldn’t stick to shooting midrange,” he said. “It was just a process of me getting comfortable to shooting the 3 consistently and in big numbers. Each year, I took small steps. At first, it was like two 3s. And then it was three. Now it’s up to six and I’m shooting more comfortable than ever.

“A big turning point for me was last year in the playoffs against Milwaukee where I could really see with my shooting how I impacted the team and how I was helping us in scoring. It opened up so much for us then.

“I think big men are not used to guarding other bigs that can shoot and stretch the floor like that. So it just opens a lot. I can shoot it, create off the dribble, drive to the basket. Nowadays, everybody wants to play in space, and it just opens up a lot for guards. You look at the guards we have here, and it can open up a lot of things for Tomas, for Coby, for Zach, for other guys, Patrick (Williams) as well. So it’s going to be a big weapon for us for sure.”

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