Today is the day that the Orlando Magic take on Nikola Vucevic and the Chicago Bulls.
It’s been a few weeks since the trade, but it still sounds weird. And looks weird, as you’ll see in the pictures below.
But as badly as the Magic continue to lose, and as tough as it was to watch an emotional Vooch’s during his introductory presser, the trade so far has worked out better than expected for the Magic as Wendell Carter Jr. has impressed and the Bulls have continued to lose, increasing the likelihood that the Magic will receive Chicago’s top-four protected 2021 pick.
But, with the Bulls being just 3-7 with Vooch, we were curious how Chicagoans were feeling about the trade and their new All-Star center. So we checked in with Vijay Vemu of Blog a Bull to find out....
What has been your initial impression of Nikola Vucevic? Better than you thought? Worse? Good fit? Bad fit?
Vemu: Vucevic has been great so far in Chicago! I’ve really liked the fit for him, especially on offense. He’s got great touch near the rim and can also hit shots from the outside, which is great because the Bulls now have another guy who can space the floor and someone who defenses have to pay attention to. Defensively it gets a bit rough when he’s forced to guard in space but has been solid on the boards, preventing opponents from getting a lot of second chance opportunities. I think Vucevic has been better than I expected so far. I thought it would take him a while to get into the groove of things offensively but since his debut against the Spurs, it’s been smooth sailing. He easily scored 21 points and grabbed nine rebounds in that game and never looked back. Overall my impression of him has been very positive and he looks to be a very solid offensive fit for Chicago moving forward.
What are the biggest impacts Vucevic has made on the Bulls?
Vemu: I think his biggest impact certainly has come on the offensive end. Now the Bulls have a guy other than LaVine who they can rely on for consistent scoring. Vucevic has certainly lived up to those expectations thus far as he has scored in double digits in all of the games he’s played for Chicago thus far and even notched 32 points and 16 boards against Indiana last week. Vucevic also gives the Bulls a scoring threat inside and arguably you could say this is the few times in the past 10-15 seasons the franchise has had this elite of a scorer in the frontcourt. The only other time in recent memory would be acquiring Pau Gasol and that was much later on in his career. It’s not just the scoring either, it’s the ability to find open teammates as well. Defenses will collapse on Vucevic rolling to the post, which leaves guys free in the corners. More often than not he has found the open man on those plays.
Having a guy like Vucevic who can take the offensive pressure off of LaVine is immense. Now Billy Donovan doesn’t have to worry as much about the offensive output of the Bulls during the times when LaVine isn’t on the court or isn’t having a good offensive game. Defensively he has shown to be a solid rebounder as well.
What changes have the Bulls made with their style of play since the trade?
Vemu: Certainly Chicago has been running a lot more post-ups with Vucevic now in the fray. It certainly seems like they have more of an effort to get the ball to him on the low block and then let him work. Also the Bulls have been running a lot more LaVine-Vucevic pick and rolls to force the hand of opposing defenses. Before the trade, teams would be a lot more willing to double LaVine on those actions. But now they can’t due to the threat of Vucevic either through the pick and pop or even his playmaking. Again, Chicago’s offense certainly has looked a lot more lively since the trade.
What has been the overall reaction from Bulls fans to the Vucevic trade?
Vemu: I think Bulls fans were ecstatic to see the front office swing and acquire a player like Nikola Vucevic. There is a lot of optimism surrounding the move among the fanbase and rightly so. This is the first time in a while that the Bulls have made a swing for a top tier player let alone an All-Star. It’s an aggressive move and one which came out of the blue. There were no reported rumors or links of Chicago wanting Vucevic before the deadline. So it was a shocker when the news broke early morning on trade deadline day. The feeling around the fanbase is now the Bulls finally have another All-Star to pair with LaVine and finally the Bulls can make a push back to the postseason.
What do you think is the ceiling for a Vucevic-LaVine led team and what do they have to do to get to the next level?
Vemu: I think the ceiling for a LaVine-Vucevic led Chicago Bulls team is a 5th or 6th seeded playoff team in the Eastern Conference. Considering where Chicago has finished in the standings the past couple of years, this will be a huge leap up and one they can make with the duo leading the way. In order to get to the next level, the Bulls need to find a solid point guard who can get everyone in the right spots on offense. A point guard will help in a lot of ways, particularly taking pressure off of LaVine being the main ball handler every single offensive possession. Chicago already took a step by acquiring Vucevic and pairing LaVine with a star, now they just have to keep adding quality pieces around them in order for this team to get even better.
Wendell Carter Jr. has been better than many in Orlando expected, what did you like/dislike about him while he was with the Bulls?
Vemu: Wendell Carter Jr. had his fair share of ups and downs in Chicago. It was really unfortunate that he didn’t exactly pan to be the player many Bulls fans had envisioned when he was selected 7th overall. Whenever you watch WCJ, you always see the flashes of potential in his game. He certainly has the tools to be a really good player in the NBA. I really liked his defensive awareness and passing while he was with the Bulls. Carter Jr. is a really smart defender and knows exactly where to be when it comes to help defense or rim protection. He has the ability to alter shots and knows exactly when to rotate over. On offense he is a willing passer and can find guys for open shots. He can stand at the top of the key and pick out cutters as well. However we only saw flashes of that playmaking potential while he was with the Bulls.
I would have liked to see him be more aggressive on offense. Teams were more than willing to let him shoot wide open mid-range jump shots although his percentages showed that he was more than capable of knocking them down. That’s because there were stretches of offensive possessions throughout the game where he would not even look at the basket and just look for a teammate instead. Again, Carter has the potential to be a guy who can comfortably knock down a shot from the mid-range if given the time and space but he just needs to take more shots.
How concerned are Bulls fans about Chicago’s protected 2021 draft pick possibly being sent to the Magic?
Vemu: Not too concerned to be honest because when the Bulls made the trade, it was clear that they are pushing towards a playoff spot and don’t want to fall into the lottery for the fourth season in a row. Chicago didn’t make the Vucevic trade to undergo another season of hoping the lottery odds land in their favor. I think most Bulls fans have already accepted that the pick will likely be sent to the Magic in the upcoming draft. Unless it miraculously lands in the top four and Chicago gets to keep it for 2021 (which means Orlando receives an unprotected pick in 2022). As for me, I’m in the same boat as most Chicago fans that I’m totally fine with the pick going to Orlando. The Bulls already safeguarded themselves from the worst case scenario of having it be a top 4 pick by adding protections as well.
Thank you again to Vijay Vemu for taking the time to speak with us. Be sure to check out his work, and all the great coverage of Nikola Vucevic and the Bulls, over at Blog a Bull.