When the Chicago Bulls acquired Nikola Vucevic in a trade-deadline deal during the 2020-21 NBA season, they already knew the All-Star center would likely be a liability in pick-and-roll defensive situations.
After all, foot speed and dexterity on the defensive end had never been Vucevic’s calling cards. However, they expected him to rebound well–which he has at 11.2 boards per contest in 99 games as a Bull. Chicago also expected him to score in the post and to shoot well from three-point range.
He handled those duties well last season scoring 21.5 points on 47% shooting from the field and just under 39% from three, but Vucevic has struggled mightily to make shots consistently this season. Most embarrassingly, Vucevic has been plain horrendous when shooting the ball wide open.
Nikola Vucevic Has Struggled to Shoot the Ball When Wide Open
NBA.com’s stat board defines “wide open” as a shot taken with the closest defender 6-feet or more away from the shooter. In these situations during the 2021-22 season, Vucevic has let the Bulls down in a major way.
According to NBA.com, there are 29 players in the league who played 30 or more games this season, while averaging 3 or more “wide-open” three-point shots per contest.
Vucevic is one of them.
The Bulls’ big man averaged 3.6 of these attempts per game this season. Among the 29 players who qualified for this sorted search, Vucevic ranked 27th on this list as he converted on just 32.6% of his “wide-open” three-point attempts. Detroit Pistons rookie Cade Cunningham (30.9%) and Indiana Pacers center Myles Turner (32.5%) were the only qualified players who were less accurate from beyond the arc while wide open.
Want to know how much the Bulls miss Lonzo Ball? The injured Bulls point guard qualified for the same split, and he was the NBA’s most accurate qualified three-point shooter when “wide-open.” Ball converted an uncanny 49.1% of his “wide-open” threes.
Vucevic’s struggles to convert “wide-open” attempts weren’t limited to the three-point line. He was almost as undependable inside the arc. From two-point range, Vucevic made just 39% of his attempts without a defender within 6 feet of him. That’s the 22nd worst accuracy rate of any qualified player.
Nikola Vucevic’s Play is Key to the Bulls Having Any Chance to Compete With the Bucks
While Vucevic has predictably had his struggles defensively, his inability to make open shots has been arguably the biggest reason for the team’s disappointing finish to the regular season. Without Ball, the Bulls have simply lacked the sort of outside shooting necessary to space the floor properly.
The Bulls’ best month of the season came in December when they were 9-2. Chicago averaged a season-high 12.3 made three-pointers per game that month. In February, March, and the 5 games played in April, the Bulls made less than 10 threes per contest.
Vucevic’s inability to make open shots makes it easier to blitz and trap DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine when they use the big man as the screener in pick-and-roll plays. That’s a huge detail and issue for the Bulls’ offense to have heading into a first-round playoff matchup with the defending NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks.
Quite frankly, the Bulls will have to defend better than they have this month as they have surrendered an average of 124.8 points per game. That said, they can stay in games if they can work their offense more efficiently.
A major part of that will be attached to Vucevic’s ability to make open shots.
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