Zach LaVine Delivers Brutally Honest Take on Nikola Vucevic

Chicago Bulls

Getty Nikola Vucevic #9 and Zach LaVine #8 of the Chicago Bulls.

It’s becoming more and more apparent that whatever befell the Chicago Bulls this season, it was not center Nikola Vucevic.

“Vooch has been great ever since he came here from Orlando,” Zach LaVine said during his end-of-season media availability on the Bulls’ YouTube channel on April 15. “He’s one of the most skilled big dudes. He doesn’t get enough credit for what he does for the team. He’s one of the best centers in the league so, me personally, I’m gonna be trying to swindle him and try to keep them here as much as I can as well…We all love Vooch here and appreciate him.”

Vucevic averaged 17.6 points, 11.0 rebounds, and 3.2 assists during the regular season, all of which are identical to his numbers from last season. But the two-time All-Star was far more efficient shooting 52% from the floor and 34.9% from beyond the arc.

Four players in NBA history have averaged 17 points, 11 rebounds, and 3.0 assists while shooting 52% from the floor and 34% from deep, per Stathead.

Query Results Table
Per Per Shoo Shoo Per
Rk Player PTS TRB 3P% FG% AST Season Age Team G GS MP
1 Nikola Jokić 24.5 11.8 .383 .632 9.8 2022-23 27 DEN 69 69 33.7
2 Domantas Sabonis 19.1 12.3 .373 .615 7.3 2022-23 26 SAC 79 79 34.6
3 Nikola Vučević 17.6 11.0 .349 .520 3.2 2022-23 32 CHI 82 82 33.5
4 Hakeem Olajuwon 27.3 11.9 .421 .528 3.6 1993-94 31 HOU 80 80 41.0

Vucevic will be an unrestricted free agent this summer.

He doubled down on his interest in re-signing in Chicago with the Bulls but also on his intention to explore his options on the open market, the second time he has been a free agent in his career after being drafted 16th-overall by the Philadelphia 76ers in 2011.

Mutual Interest In A New Deal For Vucevic

“The Bulls will have priority,” Vucevic told reporters. “I would like to stay here but that’s on the front office to decide, and work with my agent on the contract part. And then also I’ll talk to them about their vision and plans and things like that. But, yeah, that’s as much as I can say. Obviously I’ll be a free agent so I’ll see what else is out there and obviously test the market. But like I said, I’ve been here for two and a half years now. I like my time here – built good relationships, my teammates coaches, front office, people in the organization, around the city/ So a lot of positives here…But we’ll see what their plan is and what they decide to do and go from there.”

Vucevic was rumored to be available in a trade at this year’s deadline but Bulls executive vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas remains committed to this core. Karnisovas gave up a lot of assets to land Vucevic in a deal that has been panned with the emergence of Wendell Carter Jr. and Franz Wagner in Orlando.

The Bulls will also most likely hand over another lottery pick to the Magic unless their selection falls in the top-4 with some luck in the NBA Draft Lottery on May 16.

That only adds to the pressure of making things work with Vucevic who has done his part.

“He’s been awesome for us,” Karnisovas said. “He’s been available in all 82 games. He’s been our iron man together…He’s a double-double machine, he’s a top-three player in double-doubles this year. So he’s a huge part of this you know team we hope to retain”

The Big Knock on Nikola Vucevic

“In the NBA, a lot of the defensive part is also how well the team defends as a group, you’re able to help each other and put each other in the best possible positions to be a good defensive team.”

The Bulls finished with the fifth-best defensive rating in the NBA while only three players played more minutes than Vucevic this season, one of whom was LaVine.

Both players have been ripped for their defensive shortcomings but the numbers don’t lie.

“Obviously the defensive part’s been a knock against me for some time, and I know I have certain things that I don’t do as well defensively,” Vucevic admitted. “There’s things that I do really well defensively. And so I try to just do my best I can every time I’m out there and focus on things that I do well, use my IQ to help me on that end.

“I think this year was one of my better defensive years overall individually. I think there were a lot of good things I did out there. Yeah, obviously, I’m not a huge defensive stopper. That’s not new to me and so I don’t think that was new to anybody up until this year, people knew that. So it’s part of it but you figure it out and you grow from it and you try to improve and things like that. But I think defensively we were pretty good this year. We did some good stuff. Obviously offensively where we should have been probably much better, we weren’t able to figure that part out….It shows that, within the right system, any player can thrive on that end and be good.”

To Vucevic’s point, the Bulls’ finished the regular season with the 24th-ranked offense and watched the Miami Heat go on a 15-1 run to end their season for good.

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