Nikola Vucevic is not a household name, and he probably never will be. The Orlando Magic star’s game is far from flashy. One will not find him soaring for loud dunks or gracefully getting to the rim against bigs off the dribble a la Karl-Anthony Towns. That being said, Vucevic was dominant during the 2018-19 regular season, which led to him earning his first All-Star appearance. The big man recently concluded a career year in which he helped the Magic reach the postseason for the first time since 2012. However, some are still questioning whether Orlando made the right decision in re-signing Vucevic earlier this summer.
Shortly after the beginning of a free-agency period that can be described as nothing less than league-altering, the 7’0″ center agreed to terms on a four-year extension worth $100 million. Vucevic had by far his best year as a pro this past season, averaging 20.8 points to go along with 12 boards and 3.8 dimes in 31.4 minutes per game. His numbers certainly appear to prove he was worth the money, though many refute this claim by arguing that he is a poor defender, which is simply not the case. Vooch’s defensive statistics were actually quite impressive, contrary to popular belief. He managed to accumulate career-highs in defensive win-shares with 4.7 and defensive rebounding percentage at 28.6, respectively. Orlando’s defensive rating with Vucevic on the court was better than with him off of it, as it was 107.6 without him and 106.4 when he was in the game. These aforementioned analytics point to the notion that Nikola Vucevic’s skillset positively impacts the Magic on both ends of the floor.
Thanks to dedication and a desire to improve as a shooter, Vucevic has transformed himself into a perimeter marksman compared to most seven-footers. Following the trend of many of today’s big men, he has the ability to score the ball from just about anywhere. Vucevic has been a tremendous inside scorer for quite some time, however it was not until somewhat recently that he possessed a consistent and reliable 3-point shot. After not attempting more than 1 shot per game from beyond the arc before 2016-17, he finished last season hoisting up 2.9 per night while converting them at a career-best 36.4 percent clip.
When it comes to scoring the ball close to the rim, few in the NBA are as prolific as Vucevic. He has been able to score the ball at a high level for many seasons, and that is in large part due to his finishing ability. Vucevic is methodical yet highly effective when in the paint due to his elite touch and high basketball IQ. He oozes composure when having the ball down low, always making sure to attempt high-percentage looks. Vucevic scored 59 percent of his total points last season in the painted area.
Despite all of his superb accomplishments in just the past season alone, he is being unfairly ripped as someone undeserving of a four-year, $100 million extension. For example, Tobias Harris signed a five-year deal worth a reported $180 million. Vucevic was better statistically all last season. The significant difference in earnings between the two shows that Vucevic is not overpaid by today’s star standards.
The Orlando Magic made the right decision in deciding to re-sign Nikola Vucevic. Vooch is probably not someone a team can win a title with as the top scoring option, but he was an elite center in 2018-19. At just 28 years old, one would assume that Vucevic will be able to put up all-star caliber numbers at least for the duration of his new contract. With an up and coming squad centered around the Montenegrin, Orlando is in a position to contend for the postseason in the Eastern Conference for years to come.