Time for the Magic to get a close look at how Nikola Vucevic looks in red.
“It will definitely be special and weird for me at the same time,” Vucevic told reporters of playing against the Magic. “Obviously it’s a team I spent a lot of years with. There’s been a lot of changes, but there are some players that I’ve played for years with...It’ll be weird to see me in a Bulls jersey playing against the Magic jersey. I’m looking forward to it. I think it’ll be fun at the same time to see those guys, play against them and compete.
It will be a matchup between two teams who simply had to do something at the trade deadline and eventually found each other as willing trade partners, with the Magic sending Vucevic and Al-Farouq Aminu to Chicago for Wendell Carter Jr., Otto Porter Jr. and two first round picks.
Despite both teams continuing to pile up losses since the trade deadline, it seems like a deal that will work out well for both teams in the long run.
The losses for the Bulls have been somewhat mystifying, considering they paired an All-Star center with their incumbent All-Star Zach LaVine but have gone just 3-7 since adding Vooch to the lineup. More than anything it seems to be a combination of poor defense and a lack of familiarity due to limited practice time during a busy stretch.
We spoke with Vijay Vemu of Blog a Bull to discuss the impacts Vooch has made and how he has fit in. As expected when incorporating a focal point like Vucevic into an offensive, the Bulls are playing at a slower pace and featuring more post ups. At the defensive end, the Bulls are lacking perimeter defenders, and Vooch isn’t exactly the most intimidating presence inside or help defender.
In 10 games with Vucevic, the Bulls have posted a defensive rating of 114.5, which is eighth worst in the league. That is down from 111.7 prior to the trade, which was 16th in the league.
Since the trade, Vooch is averaging 21.8 points on 50 percent shooting from the field, including 42 percent from deep, while also grabbing 9.7 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game. His usage has decreased from what was a career-high 29.9 percent with the Magic this season to 27.1 percent with the Bulls. Vooch’s true shooting percentage in his short sample size with the Bulls is currently at a career-best of 58.4 percent, yet the Bulls’ true shooting percentage as a team has decreased from 34.1 percent to 32.4 percent since the trade.
All stats aside, it will be the first time Vucevic plays against the Magic since February of 2012, when he scored 10 points off the bench as the Magic beat his Sixers, 103-87. That night he played opposite Dwight Howard, a player he’d be traded for just six months later. Seemingly a throw in at the time, Vucevic went on to become a two-time All-Star and the franchise leader in field goals made.
His departure, after eight-plus seasons in Orlando, was something of an unexpected one as the Magic fully pressed the reset button at the trade deadline, leading to an emotional farewell.
“I came there as a kid and left nine years later,” Vucevic told reporters. “What I’m really most proud of is the last couple of years because we went through a lot. We went through a rebuild and then a rebuild kind of again, and then we finally made the playoffs two years in a row and I was able to become a two-time All-Star. So those things will always be special for me that I was able to achieve that with the Magic.”
Nikola Vucevic, speaking today prior to playing the Magic tonight: "Orlando always will be like home for me. So yeah, definitely a lot of great things happened there for me. At least now I can talk about it without crying, which is not bad. It's a step forward." https://t.co/ATND20SRzK— Josh Robbins (@JoshuaBRobbins) April 14, 2021
His successor acquired in the trade, Wendell Carter Jr., has impressed early on after regressing in Chicago. With the change of scenery, Carter has averaged 13.4 points, 8.3 rebounds and 1.1 blocks in 27.1 minutes per since the trade, while shooting an efficient 55.3 percent from the field and, in his first few games, coming up with some key late-game blocks that the Magic were unaccustomed to with Vucevic in the middle.
“With it being so recent, I’m going to have a certain chip on my shoulder of course,” Carter told reporters.” I’m a competitor, so I’m going to go in, play my game, and help my team win.”
Vucevic’s original successor, Mo Bamba, had been at his offensive best recently, setting a new career-high on two occasions. Over his last three full games, excluding Monday’s game when he left after three minutes with a hip injury, Bamba is averaging 18.0 points and 6.3 rebounds while shooting 57.6 percent from the field and 66.7 percent on 5.0 three-point attempts per in 22.6 minutes per.
Bamba is listed as questionable for Wednesday’s matchup with the Bulls. Otto Porter Jr. will miss the game against his former team due to a foot injury. Chuma Okeke is also listed as questionable with a sore hip.
The Magic have lost six straight games, with the defense allowing 123.7 points per game as opponents shoot over 43 percent from three.
Who: Orlando Magic (17-37) at Chicago Bulls (22-31)
When: Wednesday at 8 p.m.
Where: United Center - Chicago, Illinois
TV: Bally Sports Florida