A look at the box score after a Bulls’ game doesn’t really explain how important Nikola Vucevic really is. He is playing well and that hasn’t been talked about enough.
Vucevic is a unique big man in a very particular role that suits him well. The Bulls use him as an offensive hub for their half-court sets. He touches the ball on offense 72.5 total times per game, and is relied on to keep the offense flowing.
The Release Valve, Nikola Vucevic
When it comes to on-ball creation, the Chicago Bulls have two complete studs in Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan. They fit with Vucevic so seamlessly because they force teams to really key in on them on offense. This allows for Vuc to act as a release valve in pick-and-roll actions.
Nikola Vucevic exceeds in pick-and-pop, especially when that action presents above-the-break three-point shot attempts. In the last 11 games, he is shooting 43%(26-60fg) from that area, getting up 5.4 attempts per game. Having a big that can step out and knock down threes really stretches defenses away from the basket.
Opposing teams have a tough choice to make when guarding the Bulls in pick-and-pop and pick-and-roll. Will they allow LaVine and DeRozan to attack downhill? Or will they allow Vucevic to have open looks from three? This is one of the reasons why Vucevic is so important to the Bulls’ success offensively.
Playmaking Out of Two-Man Game
When talking about being a release valve, making shots is only one part of the deal. You have to be able to take advantage of closeouts created and the space created from the two-man game of pick-and-roll. Nikola Vucevic is one of the better passers out of the short-roll in the entire NBA.
Opposing teams will have a problem choosing what they want to take away in pick-and-roll; will they show and recover? Will they choose to blitz the screen? How about drop coverage? Well, the best thing about having Vucevic on your team is that you will always have an answer because he is a great screener, and also a pretty fast processor of the court.
Here are some examples of his playmaking out of the two-man game:
Playmaking Out of the Post
At the moment, Nikola Vucevic is averaging five post touches a game. Not only is he a scoring threat from the block, but he is also a passing threat from there. He is really good at catching and turning to see the whole floor. Once a team shows their hand in what their rotations will be, he pounces and throws dimes to shooters and cutters. This aspect of his game is yet another element he adds to this already pretty dangerous Bulls’ offense.
The element of having a passing big will put constant stress on a defense. Having to guard the absolutely elite tandem of Zach Lavine and DeMar DeRozan already sets a defense’s hair on fire the night before when thinking about how to guard them. Now opponents have to worry about the next step of when to get the ball out of their hands what to do with the seven-foot center who can score and also make plays to help create for other teammates.
The Bulls currently rank fourth in the NBA in offensive rating with a score of 112.0, while also ranking in the top 10 in assist-to-turnover ratio at 1.8. There is no doubt Vucevic is an integral part of those rankings.
Right now, Nikola Vucevic is playing well on the defensive side of the ball. In the last 10 contests, he is blocking 1.5 shots per game. Not only is he blocking shots, but he hasn’t changed how disciplined he is at staying on his feet and keeping his arms extended while forcing missed shots.
The seven-foot big man is not going to be known as a Rudy Gobert type, and that’s okay. Just being able to deter attacking players from getting easy shots because he is a huge human being is efficient enough. Watching Vucevic play in the drop coverage with his arms out wide and long is like watching a seven-foot Gibbon on the hardwood.
In the clip below, Chris Duarte gets a drag screen from Caris LeVert, Duarte comes off it and passes it to Domantas Sabonis, who then hands it back to Duarte. This series of actions set Vucevic up to be in drop position and he does a solid job of moving his feet and staying in front of Duarte as he comes downhill. Once Duarte swings it back to Sabonis, Vucevic does an exceptional job of flipping his hips while staying vertical to contest and finish with the block.
The Bottom Line
All of these examples of what Vucevic brings nightly is something this Bulls team needs. In the past, Chicago had to supplement all these different skills with different players, whether it was the shooting from Lauri Markkanen or the rebounding from Wendell Carter Jr. and Daniel Gafford. Vucevic gives the Bulls all that in one and his passing is the cherry on top.
Watching Nikola Vucevic is a treat for all Bulls fans to see. If you are not looking beyond the stats, you’re missing out on all the fun.
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