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Nikola Vucevic named an NBA All-Star reserve

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Vucevic, having a career-year in his eighth season, is a first-time All-Star

NBA: Orlando Magic at Los Angeles Lakers Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Just weeks after becoming a first-time father, Nikola Vucevic is now a first-time All-Star.

It’s certainly been a year to remember for Vooch, whose career-best season has earned him a spot on the NBA All-Star team for the first time in his eight-year career. The announcement was made Thursday on TNT’s “NBA Tip-Off,” just before Vucevic and the Orlando Magic were set to host the Indiana Pacers.

Vucevic, Orlando’s longest tenured player who is set to become a free agent this summer, entered Thursday’s game averaging 20.7 points, 12.0 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 1.2 blocks, all of which are career-highs. Under Steve Clifford, the Magic offense has adopted an inside-out style run through Vucevic, who has received more touches in the post and is also shooting a personal-best 37.7 percent from three.

Vucevic, whose PER of 25.93 is ninth best in the NBA, is one of only five players this season averaging over 20 points and 10 rebounds per game, joining an exclusive club that includes Giannis Antetokounmpo, Joel Embiid, Anthony Davis and Karl-Anthony Towns.

Vucevic, 28, becomes the eighth member of the Magic to be selected for the All-Star game, joining Shaquille O’Neal (four selections), Penny Hardaway (four), Tracy McGrady (four), Grant Hill (two), Dwight Howard (six), Rashard Lewis (one) and Jameer Nelson (one).

Reserves from the Eastern Conference that will join Vucevic include....

It will be the first time the Magic are represented in the All-Star game since Howard was selected in 2012 for his sixth straight appearance. That summer, Howard was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers in a four-team deal that also included the Denver Nuggets and the Philadelphia 76ers. The “prized” piece that Orlando received in that deal was expected to be Arron Afflalo. Seemingly a throw-in in the deal was a 21-year old center who the Sixers had selected 16th overall in the 2011 NBA Draft. He was coming off a rookie season in which he averaged 5.5 points and 4.8 rebounds in 51 games.

His name was Nikola Vucevic.

Now in his seventh season with the Magic, Vucevic is among the organization’s career leaders in many key statistical categories. He entered Thursday’s game ranked seventh in games played (455), fifth in minutes played (14,346), sixth in points (7,499), second in total rebounds (4,832), ninth in assists (1,162), fourth in blocks (444), 10th in steals (409), fourth in field goal percentage (50.3 percent), sixth in points per game (16.5), and third in rebounds per game (10.6).

The Magic, of course, haven’t experienced team success since Vucevic has come to Orlando, winning more than 30 games in a season just once in his time with the team. As a result, Vucevic was underappreciated at times during his tenure in Orlando despite his offensive production, thanks largely to his lack of rim protection and lackluster pick-and-roll defense. The Magic seemingly hand-picked his successor when they drafted Mo Bamba with the sixth pick in the 2018 NBA Draft.

Vooch responded by playing the best basketball of his career. His individual production this season has helped keep the Magic (20-31) somewhat in the playoff hunt in a weak Eastern Conference. While Vucevic was largely ignored in the popularity contest that is NBA All-Star fan voting that favors stars and big markets, the coaches who pick the reserves found him impossible to ignore.

Vooch has finally been rewarded with an All-Star spot and some well-deserved national recognition.

No one knows what the future holds for Vucevic and Orlando, with the trade deadline approaching and unrestricted free agency looming, but his All-Star selection is a bright spot in what has been some dark years for the Magic.

“It would mean everything to me,’’ Vucevic told OrlandoMagic.com’s John Denton of potentially being named an All-Star. “Obviously, I’ve been through a lot here and our team has been through a lot and to finally get the recognition (would be nice). I know I’m respected around this league and enough people respect my game and know what I’m capable of doing. But getting selected as an All-Star would take me to that next step, I think.’’