Bulls’ Big Man Nikola Vucevic Gets Candid About Star Teammate

Nikola Vucevic, Chicago Bulls

Getty Zach LaVine #8, Nikola Vucevic #9 and DeMar DeRozan #11 of the Chicago Bulls take the floor together.

There were 44 seconds remaining on the clock and the Chicago Bulls were trailing by just three points versus the Philadelphia 76ers. That was no small feat after the Bulls had trailed by as many as 19 points in their eventual 114-109 loss.

But, at that moment, the Bulls had the ball in the hands of their franchise player, Zach LaVine, whom they rewarded with a $215 million contract this past offseason.

It’s quite honestly a standard scenario, one they might even say almost went as planned.

LaVine got the Ball with plenty of time to operate and in one of his favorite spots. As one might expect of the two-time All-Star scorer, he pulled up from one of his favorite spots on the floor and took what could have been a shot for the lead but instead turned into a moment of self-reflection.

Some Regret LaVine’s Decision

Last season, LaVine took 29% of his shots from the mid-range and shot 39% on those looks, per Cleaning The Glass. LaVine has only taken 16% of his looks from the mid-range in three games this season hitting just 30% of them.

Both figures represent a drop-off from his 2020-21 campaign and are most simply explained by the arrival of DeMar DeRozan.

And Vucevic isn’t pointing the finger.

“I don’t think he saw me. It was a solid shot by him. It just didn’t go in. I didn’t want to yell because he was going into the shot and I didn’t want to disturb him. It happened fast. He didn’t miss me on purpose.” (h/t K.C. Johnson/NBC Sports Chicago)

As true as that may be, LaVine’s decision-making has been a topic of discussion in the past and, in light of his new contract, every mistake he makes gets scrutinized that much more. It is a spot LaVine has shown familiarity and comfort attacking from. But the high-flying guard admitted to reporters that, at that moment, he made the incorrect decision.

Of note, Vucevic was 5-for-7 from beyond the arc in the game while LaVine was 8-of-19 from the floor. Both players finished with at least 20 points but the moment called for LaVine to make the extra pass.

LaVine on Slow Starts

It is still hard to fault him for his decision. LaVine connected on over 49% of his shots in the clutch last season trailing only DeRozan whose clutch prowess is well-known. Unfortunately for Lavine, he is now 0-for-3 from the floor in the clutch this season.

Perhaps even more troubling has been the Bulls’ slow starts this season but it’s not exactly the offense — at least not exclusively.

The Bulls rank a modest 15th in first-quarter scoring this season. While that is an improvement over last season (22nd), they allow the second-most first-quarter points per game this year. That is down from the 16th-place finish they had a year ago.

They have fallen behind in five of their seven games and are 3-3 in those games with one of the losses coming against the rebuilding San Antonio Spurs.

It was a repeat against Philly.

LaVine knows the success that they have had is unsustainable.

“When you’re down, you’re fighting for your life to get back into the game. We need to come out that way. These first games, that’s been our MO. We’re getting down on the first unit. The second unit usually comes in and saves our ass.” (h/t Cody Westerlund/670 The Score)

The Bulls are getting outscored by 4.3 points in the first quarter of games this season, 27th in the NBA. They are plus-12 in every other quarter combined.

Had they found a way to jumpstart their offense sooner, they’d have had one or two more wins.

Bulls Get Trolled

76ers star Joel Embiid is not afraid to prod his opponents and after Saturday’s win was no different as the big man shared pair of images from the game to Instagram. The caption read simply “Aaron Rodgers” with shots of Embiid celebrating the win and hitting a shot over Vucevic.

That cannot feel good for a front office that has done so much to bring respectability back to the franchise.

It is also a reminder of the talent gap that still exists between the Bulls and other top teams.

The caveat is that the Bulls were without starting point guard Ayo Dosunumu and backup center Andre Drummond – both of whom had made a positive impact when they have been on the floor this season.

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