Three centers switched teams when the Orlando Magic traded Dwight Howard to the Los Angeles Lakers in August. Andrew Bynum went from L.A. to the Philadelphia 76ers, while Nik Vučević came to Orlando from Philly. Bynum and Howard were All-Stars, while Vučević was coming off an okay rookie season in which he fell out of the playing rotation. And somehow, no team came away happier with the center they got in the deal than the Magic.
That's not to say that Vučević is a better player than Howard or Bynum, but rather that he exceeded expectations to a dizzying degree. And at least he played, which is more than anyone can say for Bynum.
|Points Per Game||Rebounds Per Game||Blocks Per Game|
|Points Per 36||Rebounds Per 36||Blocks Per 36|
|PER||Rebound Rate||Block Rate|
All statistics in this table from Vučević's player page at basketball-reference. Career-best statistics highlighted in gold; career-worst statistics highlighted in silver.
Vučević played a role on Orlando from the first day of the season, a luxury that the Magic's other youngsters never had. As a result of that and his own good health--he missed only five games the entire season--he logged more minutes than any other player in pinstripes.
And for the most part, those minutes were effective. Vučević's greatest strength is his rebounding, as his per-game average of 11.9 ranked second in the league behind only Howard, and the rebounding remained consistent: he had six boards or more in 71 if his 77 appearances.
Vučević's work on the offensive boards made him a reasonably efficient scorer, though his True Shooting mark of 53.4 percent is just slightly below league average. There are two reasons for that lower-than-one-might-expect efficiency: he doesn't draw many fouls and he takes a fair share of two-point jumpers.
I don't mind Vučević parking himself at the elbow, though: he has above-average passing instincts for a big man, and stationing him there doesn't affect his rebounding in a significant way. But he's too big, too long, and too active inside to averaged just 1.6 free-throw attempts per game. He needs to work on drawing more contact in order to become a more efficient and complete offensive player.
His defensive deficiencies are real too, and improving his strength should help him better hold his ground in the post. It's not a coincidence that Magic opponents shot 62.4 percent in the restricted circle with Vučević on the floor, compared to 59.7 percent with him off it. And while there's more to defense than blocking shots, a player of Vučević's size and ability should be able to record more than one rejection per game, on average, as Vučević did.
It's clear that Vučević has a bright future in this league, but the present looks pretty good too.
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