Thursday, November 7, 2013

Vucevic Destined to be an All-Star

I swear to God I was going to post this before his 30-point, 21-rebound beast of an outing against the Clippers. I don’t know when it will happen, but expect Nik Vucevic to be selected to participate in an NBA All-Star Game some time in the future. Hopefully it’ll be with him still a member of the Magic. Better yet, why not this season?

Based on Nik’s historical accomplishments during the 2012-2013, and his 17.8 ppg, 13.2 ppg, 1.2 spg, 1.2 bpg and 56.9 FG% through the first 5 games of this season, it’s just a matter of when and not if. Let me explain.

Nik Vucevic became just the 3rd NBA player in the last 25 years to record back-to-back 20+ point, 20+ rebound, and 5+ assist performances. He did it April 7th and 10th at Cleveland and against the Bucks. The other two players to do that? Hakeem Olajuwon and Charles Barkley. Also, since the beginning of the '12-'13 season Vucevic now has five 20-20 performances. The next closest? DeMarcus Cousins with two. 

Obstacles in Nik’s way to getting the Eastern Conference All-Star Game invite for New Orleans in 3 months will be how many touches he gets on offense - which have increased infinitely so far this season - and overcoming well known names like Roy Hibbert, Chris Bosh, Brook Lopez, and a struggling Joakim Noah in the East. Al Horford, Marcin Gortat and even Spencer Hawes are threats at the moment. Even though the conference as a whole is weak, the competition at the center position is steep. So how does the Montenegrin distinguish himself from all of those centers? 

Right now Vucevic is averaging 1.4 more rebounds per contest than the next highest Eastern Conference big man (Al Horford). Vucevic has the 3rd-highest East center Player Efficiency Rating (Behind Brook Lopez and the surprising Zaza Pachulia). He's 4th in scoring among East centers behind Brook Lopez, Chris Bosh, and Al Horford. Vucci Mane has the 2nd-highest defensive win shares (Roy Hibbert #1) and 2nd-highest offensive win shares (Zaza Pachulia #1?!) among East bigs which places him 1st in total win shares (7th place OVERALL). So you can see, he very well would get that All-Star Game invite which would be perfect timing for the 3rd year USC product as Nik is no longer eligible for the Rising Stars exhibition he played in against Andrew Nicholson last season. 

Again, it's extremely early and this post is following the best game of Vucevic's career. But he's a humble man who won't ever pump up his own name, so we the media need to do it for him and build the the well-deserved hype machine. 

I wasn't worried about Nik’s wasted Montenegrin EuroBasket experience in September, and if anything Nik is using that as motivational fuel. It’s not his fault the national team coach is incompetent and stubborn. Vucevic’s lack of playing time was not because of a flu or injury. Nor was it because he was not performing. Plus/minus is a stronger on-court measurement in international ball. Even when Nik wasn’t shooting lights out, his solid defending helped spark runs and confidence in teammates. That improved defense has carried over into Jacque Vaughn's blossoming system. 

When you have boatloads of European writers and even unbiased FIBA play-by-play announcers questioning why Nik wasn’t on the floor more at EuroBasket, you know the player isn’t in the wrong. But I view that frustration as a positive for Vooch in that he’s hungry to succeed even more in Orlando. It was evident at media day, training camp, preseason, and this present time. Vucevic's confidence is continuing to soar and he's not hesitating to demand the ball now. Especially when there were games last season that Orlando lost that they would've won if Vucevic received more touches. Feed your 23-year-old beast, Jacque. Especially when his worst habit is not choking at the free throw line, but being at times too unselfish. This is the ultimate team guy. Reward him. He's going to be an All-Star, let's make it sooner than later. 

Bottomline: Nikola Vucevic is the hero Orlando needs and deserves right now. He's the human mascot that embodies this shockingly decent 3-2 record to begin this '13-'14 campaign. It's all about health for Vooch and continuing to impress us with his expanded offensive game and active defensive and rebounding abilities. This Magic team being able to keep winning would be a massive boost as well. 

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Best Postgame Home Quotes of October

I always like going back and examining solid quotes from both Magic and opposing players and coaches and just keeping track over the course of a season what type of changes or transformations occur that are captured by words. I'll share some of the better ones. This may be a monthly trend.

10/11/13 - Cleveland Cavaliers

Nikola Vucevic: "I like moving around the floor. I need to play whatever Coach puts in and just run it. You've got to be active, you have to move around. As a big, you've got to set screens, then you have to roll, you just can't be standing on the court."

Kyle O'Quinn: "Nik's a more skilled big. Lefty, righty, lefty hook, right hook, that's what he does. I just do the dirty work, things he shouldn't have to do when he's that for the team."

E'Twaun Moore: "I spent most of the summer just trying to get my ball handling and point guard skills down. I'm used to playing off the ball a lot but now I'm with the ball. A lot of ball handling drills, passing, Steve Nash-type stuff."

Cavs guard Kyrie Irving on Oladipo: "He is going to be great. He is going to be great in this league. The size that he has at the PG position...and then he can move over to the 2. He can guard the 1 and 2. His potential is out the roof. When I was coming up with him because we are about the same age, he was known as just a defensive player. Now to see his offensive game develop it is just great to see. He has come into a league were the PG position is definitely front-loaded and there are going to be nights where guys come at him, but he is prepared for that."

10/18/13 - Memphis Grizzlies

Jacque on Victor's energy and maybe toning it down: "Tone him down, from diving on the floor and doing your job every night? I don't think I'm going to do that, I think I'm going to encourage that to play defense with the energy and effort every night to dive on the floor and get a possession for your team. Those things are important every single night. So I don't see me changing or diluting that instruction at all."

Coach Vaughn on Oladipo's knack for getting to the FT line: "Well that makes us better. Those are free points when you can get there and it puts pressure on the defense. Getting to the bonus enables you to get to the line and other people can benefit from his aggressiveness and getting to the line. It's tough to keep him in front of you, and so if he can put pressure on the defense the more the better for us as a team."

Victor on playing his first road trip: "It's lovely. No classes, no walking to class, no tutoring, no homework. We just play basketball. We've all been playing since we were little, we all have a love for the game. You can't forget that no matter what happens, it's a blessing. You've just got to keep working hard."

Vucevic on facing Dwight, Dirk, and Marc Gasol: "I like going against guys that are better than me. It gives me a chance to see where I'm at. I feel like I've done a pretty good job against those guys; going pretty hard and seeing where I'm at, especially comparing with last year to see if I improved and I feel like I did a better job against them than last year."

10/20/13 - Detroit Pistons

Jacque on adjustments against Detroit: "That's the part of the maturation right there, and it's seeing how the game is flowing. There's a little different pace to every game, whether fouls are called early or not, and so being able to adjust to the referees to the style of play, the physicality of play. That showed a lot by our group for sure."

Tobias Harris: "The way you practice is the way you play. So if we go out there and get physical in practice and push each other, I think it correlates to the game. I think it showed tonight. So that's a good sign for us."

Kyle O'Quinn on Oladipo: "He's one of a kind. He just comes in and does anything he has to do to fit in. Whatever Coach says to do, he does. Whatever the vets and even the second year players, you give him a tip and he runs with it. On top of his talent, it just makes it that much better out on the floor."

Oladipo on what he's learned up to now: "To stop going so fast. Sometimes I don't realize how fast I'm going. I missed a lay-up today and I was like, 'OK', but everybody was like running out and I was going so fast I didn't realize I missed it. So sometimes I have to slow down. Other than that, I think I'm doing pretty good. There are mistakes here and there but they're correctable mistakes so I'll keep growing as a player."

10/25/2013 - New Orleans Pelicans

Coach Vaughn on Oladipo's preseason growth: "Well, he barely has his feet wet. There's a lot that he's going to see this season and overall what I really love about him is his demeanor. I think guys really like playing with him. His effort level doesn't change and it's a positive things so whether he's making shots or not, getting to the free throw line or not, I think you'll see an effort level every night from him that will be contagious."