When the first returns for NBA All-Star voting came out last week, there weren't many surprises. Kobe Bryant, a 17-time All-Star playing in his final season, led all vote getters, despite struggling mightily for much of the early season. Stephen Curry, Golden State's wonder boy who oohs and aahs people with his ability to shoot the ball from anywhere on the court, led all guards in votes, with Cleveland's LeBron James leading all vote getters in the Eastern Conference.
Since the league chose to abolish the Center position from the ballot three years ago -- they began grouping players into frontcourt and backcourt players, rather than by single positions like they previously did -- there has been more variability in who starts. In 2014, the Eastern Conference started three small forwards -- James, Carmelo Anthony and Paul George -- while the Western Conference started two power forwards in Kevin Love and Blake Griffin. Needless to say, taking the center position out has hurt big mens chances of not only starting, but in some cases making the team.
Looking back to 2015, some thought Orlando Magic big man Nikola Vucevic, who was not selected to the team, deserved to make the team. The coaches, who select the reserves after fans vote in the starters, chose to go with four Atlanta Hawks, including sharp shooter Kyle Korver, over Vucevic.
Now, nearly 11 months after being "snubbed" from the All-Star game, Vucevic is putting up numbers that could once again get him considered for the 12-man roster.
Through 28 games, Vucevic is averaging 17.3 points, 8.7 rebounds (the lowest mark since his rookie season) and 2.8 assists per game (a career-high), while shooting a highly efficient 53.3 percent from the field, also a career-high to this point. While Vucevic's numbers for the entire season may not be the most impressive, his current level of play has been.
Across 14 games in December, Vucevic has put up his best numbers of a single month in his career, 19.4 points, nine rebounds and 3.5 assists per game. Should he keep those averages through their final game of the month, Vucevic would become the first player since Shaquille O'Neal in 1995 to have those kind of numbers in a month.
While his stellar play has helped carry the Magic to one of the best records in the league over the past month, Vucevic isn't being mentioned by many for an appearance in the All-Star game. This doesn't bother Vucevic, however, who said it's "OK" and that "there's still a long way to go" when asked about the first All-Star game voting returns.
Vucevic's play isn't going unnoticed by his coaches either. During his post game press conference, Magic head man Scott Skiles claimed he and his assistants were confused as to why more teams weren't doubling the Magic's man in the middle. "We're curious as to why teams aren't coming down and flat doubling him," said Skiles. "It may be because he's passed the ball so well this year when they do. He's made so many good decisions to other people that it makes the opponent leery.
"He’s got the whole thing going right now. He’s shooting the face-up jumper, he’s driving from the perimeter, he’s got back to the basket, left hand, right hand, you know, all the skills that he has, he’s got it all going right now."
Other coaches are noticing Vucevic's strong play as well. Following their game on Monday night, New Orleans Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry praised Vucevic, calling him "one of the best centers in the league. "Great footwork, as I said earlier, good touch around the basket and his ability to spot up and shoot 15-18 footers is good," said the Pelicans first-year head man.
Skiles, who said some teams will go as far as sending out flyers to get players into the All-Star game, stated he wouldn't go that for for Vucevic. "I don't think it's anything that should be begged for," said the NBA's All-Time single game assist leader. "I think it should be, and I'm sure it is, fairly obvious to the coaches in the East that he is a very, very high level player."
The first-year Magic coach went on to say that it will likely come down to what the Magic's record looks like when the coaches vote.
With a somewhat loaded front court in the Eastern Conference -- if voting ended today, James, George and Detroit Pistons big man Andre Drummond would be the starters -- Vucevic could be facing an uphill battle once again to get into his first All-Star game. Along with the current starters, the Knicks' Anthony, Miami's Chris Bosh, Cleveland's Kevin Love and Chicago's Pau Gasol are all having strong seasons as well, and could end up ahed of Vucevic in the pecking order.
Nevertheless, Vucevic is playing at an extremely high level currently, and is making a push to get into his first All-Star game. Should the Magic continue their winning ways -- they currently sit tied for sixth place in the Eastern Conference -- Vucevic could very well hear his name called in late January.