For Nikola Vucevic, the 15th time was the charm.
After popping behind the arc, Vucevic took a pass from Patrick Williams and without a second thought, and let it fly. As the ball fell through the bottom of the net, Vucevic’s hands flew up in relief.
Considering none of his previous three-point attempts had gone down before the preseason finale Friday, you couldn’t blame him for his reaction.
(Hell, you might’ve even thrown your hands in the air right along with him.)
He’ll still lug the worst three-point shooting of his exhibition career into the Bulls’ season opener against the Pistons Wednesday, but there’s plenty of reason to believe Vucevic won’t stay bogged down for long.
For starters, he’s coming off a season that put his previous nine to shame.
The 30-year-old averaged a career-best 23.4 points per game on a career-high 40% shooting from deep, and that figure wasn’t the product of a small sample size, either.
His shot diet has consisted of the largest serving of three-pointers he’s taken to date. Yet, of the players who took at least 440 threes, only Steph Curry (42.1%), Duncan Robinson (40.8%), Joe Harris (47.5%), and his teammate Zach LaVine (41.9%) connected at a higher clip.
That level of precision won’t just melt into thin air. Especially considering Vucevic drained one out of every three shots he took from distance the previous two seasons.
In an era where players his size are asked to do more away from the paint, Vucevic has evolved into a 6-foot-11, 260-pound marksman. He’s especially good when perched above the break, where all but nine of the threes he chucked last season originated.
Of the 16 players who fired a similar amount of rounds from that part of the court—a list that includes Trae Young, Jayson Tatum, Paul George, Davis Bertans, and Tim Hardaway Jr.—only Robinson (42%) and Kyrie Irving (40.5%) were better shots.
When you factor in three-point attempts off the catch, that list gets whittled down even further with Vucevic falling less than two percentage points shy of Robinson and the top spot.
That bodes extremely well moving forward, as those looks won’t be going anywhere anytime soon.
That won’t change with LaVine, Lonzo Ball, and DeMar DeRozan taking turns as the point man in two-man actions with Vucevic. In addition, Vucevic will likely be stepping into a healthy amount of above-the-break threes as the trailer in transition.
To say nothing of how he can leverage his post game against his outside shooting. And vice versa.
Vucevic still has that in his bag, too.
Only Nikola Jokic and Joel Embiid, who finished first and second in MVP voting respectively, scored more points per game on post-ups last season.
That’s the beautiful yin and yang of his arsenal.
It’s what made him a two-time All-Star in February and an alluring acquisition for the Bulls in March. It’s what sets him apart from every other player on the roster.
LaVine, DeRozan, and Ball will steer the Bulls into their half-court sets, but Vucevic will be the gas that makes it go. His ability to score in the post, in pick-and-rolls, and, perhaps more importantly, in pick-and-pops, opens doors for the offense that would otherwise be closed.
That trey Vucevic hit off Williams’ dish was his first and last of the preseason. Though he did sink 10 of his other 13 shots.
No, he still hasn’t found his groove from long range. But don’t worry.
He’s on his way to Motown.
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