Top Pivot Floated as Trade Replacement for Bulls Center

Nikola Vucevic Bulls-Celtics

Getty Chicago Bulls center Nikola Vucevic is defended by Boston Celtics star Jaylen Brown.

On the whole, Nikola Vucevic is having a better year for the Chicago Bulls than he did during the 2021-22 campaign. The two-time All-Star has rediscovered his three-point shot — he’s connecting at an impressive 37.7% clip — and is rebounding the ball at an incredibly high rate and getting to the line more, too.

Still, there’s no shaking the fact that his skills as a go-to guy down low are wasted on a team that runs a lot of its offense through a volume scorer in Zach LaVine and a mid-range maestro in DeMar DeRozan.

And his defense as a traditional center (on that side of the ball) isn’t — and never will be — good enough to outweigh any shortfall that might pop up on the offensive end.

With all of that being the case, there’s a chance that the Bulls may be better off with a true defensive anchor who can step into a supplementary role offensively, even if said player represents a step downward in terms of star quotient. To that end, one analyst is pitching an underrated vet and former lottery pick as a potential trade target.

Jakob Poeltl a Trade Option for the Bulls?

Highlights: Jakob Poeltl's Defense | 2021-22 San Antonio Spurs SeasonTop defensive plays from San Antonio Spurs Center Jakob Poeltl's 2021-22 season. Jakob recorded 634 REB, 118 BLK and 45 STL on the season!2022-04-27T16:04:10Z

Bleacher Report‘s Zach Buckley just dropped his least of the three players the Bulls could consider making a play for “before the rumor mill picks up.” One of them — San Antonio Spurs center Jakob Poeltl — could be a nice change of pace from what Billy Donovan is working with currently.

Wrote Buckley:

“Vucevic is a much better shooter and scorer [than Poeltl]… When he’s a distant third fiddle behind DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine, though, the Bulls are rarely positioned to receive what Vucevic does best. Poeltl, on the other hand, would offer a seamless fit as an impact paint protector, rebounder, screen-setter and point-blank finisher.”

During his last year with the Magic (pre-Bulls trade) in 2020-21, Vucevic was taking almost 21 shots and scoring 24.5 points per game with 48-41-82 shooting splits. Now, he’s down to 12.5 FGA and 15.5 PPG, the latter number representing his lowest output since 2016-17.

Even that is a number Poeltl may never reach as a scorer, but his overall skill set could make for an impeccable fit with Chicago’s roster nonetheless.

Poeltl Has a Winning Skill Set

After having a career year with the Spurs in 2021-22, Poeltl has picked up right where he left off this season. Through 17 appearances, he’s averaging 13.6 points, 9.8 rebounds, 3.6 assists and right around one block and one steal per contest. The 27-year-old is also connecting on 64.2% of his shot attempts.

They’re numbers that say a lot on their own, but the advanced analytics and tracking stats say even more about his defensive impact and off-ball work offensively.

Poeltl contested more shots per game (a whopping 14.2) than anyone in the Association last season. In turn, opponents’ field-goal percentages dropped by an average of 8.3% on attempts within six feet of the hoop when he was the closest defender. So, while he’s not a high-level shot-blocker, his abilities as a paint protector are beyond reproach.

On the other end, he ranked second league-wide in screen assists with 5.5. per game. That, combined with his passing ability, could pay huge dividends for LaVine, DeRozan and the rest of the Bulls’ scorers.

Despite all of that, San Antonio may be motivated to get something back for him while they still can before he becomes an unrestricted free agent this summer.

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