Jacque Vaughn knew Nik Vučević could shoot.
That's the impression the Orlando Magic's head coach got from the time he spent watching Vučević before he became his coach. In seeing Vučević play collegiately at USC and in his first NBA season with the Philadelphia 76ers, Vaughn said Wednesday night that he had an idea that the young seven-footer could shoot the ball. What was less clear was that Vučević would develop into a terrific rebounder.
"His ability to get rebounds, to provide a touch around the rim with both hands, has been extremely impressive to me," Vaughn said.
If anyone on the 15-37 Magic is a master of any craft, it's Vučević with his rebounding. At age 22, he's the league's fourth-leading rebounder, hauling in 11.5 boards per game. His 29-rebound effort on New Year's Eve broke Orlando's single-game record formerly held by some guy named Shaquille O'Neal. And Vaughn thinks Vučević can improve.
"I think he'll even be better once he gets more physical in the sense of stronger as an individual, and matures," Vaughn said. "He'll be able to get some of those rebounds where he's just stronger and bigger than the other guy."
The Magic want to see Vučević, a true seven-footer listed at 240 pounds, bulk up as his career progresses.
"Well, he's going to have to [get stronger]," Vaughn said. "This is a physical game." He said he and his coaching staff have noticed "there's opportunities where maybe if we hit first can get a few more rebounds going in our direction."
Ask around and you'll find that people point toward Vučević's inherent physical gifts as a reason for his success on the boards. Magic teammate Josh McRoberts cited Vučević's long arms. Vučević himself said his size is "obviously" a factor in his success.
But not all of the long-armed seven-footers in league history developed reached Vučević's level as a rebounder, so size doesn't explain it all.
Vaughn touched on the mental approach a good rebounder has to have. "He has great anticipation," Vaughn said. "He pursues the basketball, and I think he's at a place now where he really enjoys rebounding the basketball, which is good."
McRoberts agreed. "I think great rebounders always have a knack for the ball," he said.
Vučević himself thinks he owes a lot of his success to innate natural ability. "You can maybe learn a little bit but I think it's really more mostly natural," he said.
Being the son of a man who played basketball professionally for 24 years helped Borislav Vučević's son in that regard. "I was born with good basketball feelings," Vučević said of the advantage his parentage gave him. "I don't know if he was a good rebounder, but definitely I learned a lot from him just by watching him and talking to him every day." Vučević says he still talks to his father regularly and continues to learn from the man he calls "my best coach."
Experience helps too. "As a big man, I've been doing this for, like, a couple years [...] so I kinda know, just by playing a lot of games, you get a better idea, a better feel, [of] where the ball might bounce off," Vučević said. Film study can help rebounders improve their positioning and box-out techniques, but the ability to know where the ball will bounce can't be taught.
Vaughn won't say if there's a limit to what Vučević can accomplish as a rebounder. "I won't put a ceiling on it," he said. "Do I think he can continue to grow from where he is now? Yes."
Orlando's coach thinks Vučević is making strides in facets of the game besides rebounding. "Now I think you see him putting it all together. He's extremely confident shooting the basketball. I think he's gaining confidence getting the ball on the block, surveying, making moves, making passes out of the post position."
"He's been, throughout the course of the year, one of our most consistent players."
Consistency is a goal Vučević said he hoped to reach in his sophomore season, as it eluded him in Philadelphia. He's achieved that goal, as his 30-game streak of nine-plus rebound performances--a streak which ended in Wednesday's loss--attests.
If he sets out to achieve greatness, then rebounding won't be the only craft Vučević will master in Magic pinstripes.
AMC sponsored this post.