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Is Nikola Vucevic The Bulls’ Villain?

While a general disdain for Vucevic’s underperformance is understandable, a lack of overall context is leading to an overreaction from Bulls fans.

Nikola Vucevic Bulls
Photo: Raj Mehta/USA TODAY Sports

Nikola Vucevic has been disappointing this season. I think that’s a statement that all Chicago Bulls fans can agree with. He’s averaging just 15 points per game while shooting a dismal 39.6% from the field and 30% from three-point range. And just 223 days ago, the Bulls traded multiple first-round draft picks to acquire the two-time All-Star.

Despite the team’s overall strong start, many fans are rightfully frustrated with the big man’s production. While I understand the general disdain for his underperformance, I think a lack of overall context is leading to an overreaction from the fan base. And my goal in this short expose is to bring this overlooked context to your attention.

An Underlying Workhorse

It doesn’t get talked about, but the Bulls are asking A LOT of Nikola Vucevic. He’s only four minutes behind Zach LaVine for the team lead in total minutes played. And the 34.1 minutes per game he’s played this season represent a career-high. But it’s not just the minutes he’s playing. It’s also how much he’s doing in those minutes.

Among all NBA players, Vucevic ranks fifth in half-court touches per game.

Additionally, he ranks second in pick-and-rolls defended, while also ranking second in points allowed per possession on those pick-and-rolls.

He ranks first in the league in PnR roll man possessions per game. In fact, the gap between Vucevic and second-placed Domantas Sabonis is larger than the gap between Sabonis and seventh-placed LaMarcus Aldridge.

When it comes to catch-and-shoot attempts per game, you’ll never guess who’s leading the league.

During the Bulls’ win against the Utah Jazz, Vucevic put up 16 points and 12 rebounds on 4-for-19 (21.1%) shooting. I went back through the game and he also set 78 screens, defended 34 pick-and-rolls, and had 51 half-court touches. It’s worth noting I didn’t count ghost screens where no contact was made or PnRs where Vucevic didn’t actually move. Again, statistically he’s allowing the second-fewest points per possession on these pick-and-rolls.

The Shooting Situation

I ran a poll on my Twitter, where I asked if people considered these shooting splits good.

The results leaned overwhelmingly toward yes. Those numbers are Nikola Vucevic per 100 possessions in the first halves of the last four games.

In contrast, here are his splits in the second halves of those four games.

I’ll leave it up to you to figure out a reason why he may be underperforming later in games.

In Conclusion

For the most part, Nikola Vucevic has performed poorly for the Bulls this season. As a result, a lot of fans are suggesting that the team should trade him and that he’s a bad player.

But before you call Vucevic the villain, I hope you factor in the workload he’s given.

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