Liberty Ballers, the SB Nation blog for the Philadelphia 76ers, published a post Thursday which tried to "debunk" the "myth" that Orlando Magic center Nikola Vučević is a "great" player. The Sixers had to surrender Vučević to Orlando in August's four-team trade involving Dwight Howard. Philly received Los Angeles Lakers center Andrew Bynum in return. Bynum, an All-Star in 2012, has yet to suit up for the Sixers; the condition of his knees is such that a story about his working out warrants a headline that indicates that he didn't "break" them.
Bynum's slow recovery and Vučević's breakout season with the Magic apparently has Sixers fans wondering if the team might have been better off keeping the 22-year-old Montenegrin. That's the issue Liberty Ballers author Justin F. attempted to tackle in his Vučević piece, and it's one worth addressing. But in the process of trying to make his point about Philly's Bynum gambit, he gravely underestimates Vučević's value.
Justin contends that Vučević "is excellent on the defensive boards, decent on the offensive boards, and fairly crappy everywhere else." He raises a fair question about Vučević's struggles to draw free-throw attempts, and points out that he's not a terribly athletic center prospect.
But a lack of athleticism hasn't held Vučević back at all. He's an elite rebounder, averaging 11.2 rebounds per game, good for third in the league. His rebound rate of 20.2 percent ranks sixth. He doesn't need all-world hops to snare rebounds at elite levels, given his seven-foot frame, long arms, and already sound instincts on the glass.
Those same long arms also help him finish at the rim, where he shoots 61.6 percent, or 1.7 percent better than the league average. Lest you think that Vučević is merely a garbageman and finisher, consider that his 41.3 percent mark on mid-range jumpers also tops the league average.
To be clear, Vučević is far from a perfect player; he has significant room to grow offensively--his 1.9 free-throw attempts per game is particularly worrisome--and defensively. His shot-blocking instincts could use some work, as he averages just 1.1 rejections per game. And despite starting alongside, and thus sharing lots of floor time with, Glen Davis, Vučević's on-off defensive numbers leave plenty to be desired.
But if you add it all up, Vučević is a 22-year-old seven-footer who's already an elite rebounder. He's an emerging weapon offensively, and he'll only continue to progress as he gains more confidence in that jumper. He's absolutely on track to be one of the East's best and most productive young centers: in fact, he's already ahead of where Joakim Noah was at age 22.
It's reasonable to wonder if the Sixers ought to have held on to Vučević instead of cashing him, Maurice Harkless, and Andre Iguodala in for Bynum; despite Vučević's growth in Orlando, it's a call the Sixers probably would make again, even given the precarious state of Bynum's knees.
That question is the real issue, the one worth exploring. Because Vučević has already settled any doubts about his worthiness at this level.