East Coach Issues Reality Check on Bulls’ Nikola Vucevic

Nikola Vucevic Bulls-Bucks

Getty Nikola Vucevic is defended by Giannis Antetokounmpo during a playoff bout between the Chicago Bulls and the Milwaukee Bucks.

When the Chicago Bulls made the move to pluck Nikola Vucevic from the Orlando Magic in 2021, it wasn’t hard to understand their rationale. The team was in the midst of a years-long playoff drought, Zach LaVine would soon be seeking a major pay raise (in the Windy City or elsewhere) and the big man was having a career year at the time.

For a team looking to take the next step — lest everything fall apart — Vucevic held a lot of appeal as a potential core piece. After 18 months in a Bulls uniform, though, one would probably stop short of calling the move a rousing success.

Vucevic joining the mix didn’t result in a playoff berth in the weeks after his deadline trade. And while the team did finally break through last season — which was enough to convince LaVine to extend — Vucevic was hardly the player he had been in the Magic Kingdom.

According to one Eastern Conference assistant, only Vucevic has the power to pull himself out of the mire and become the player the Bulls envisioned when they acquired him.

Assistant Coach: Vucevic Needs to Work Around DeRozan

The aforementioned assistant recently spoke with Heavy.com’s Sean Deveney about Vucevic, and their take on the situation was either somewhat optimistic or a funeral dirge, depending on how you feel about the Montenegrin star’s game and adaptability.

“It’s on Vuc at this point. What we saw is he is just not the same shooter,” the coach said while also noting that when Vucevic isn’t making shots “it makes his defense look that much worse.”

Of course, Bulls fans know full well the kind of struggles Vucevic had as a shooter last season. After nailing 40% of his triples in 2020-21, the 31-year-old dropped all the way down to 31.4% in 2021-22.

“You can feel a little better about giving him a cushion and letting him shoot the three or letting him have that high mid-range shot,” the assistant added. However, there’s one major hang-up with that particular plan.

“DeMar [DeRozan] spends so much time there, there isn’t room for them both in the high post. But if you’re Vuc, you have to work around the star, they’re not going to work around you… It’s not the scheme, though. He can still play at a high level but he’s got to make his shots.”

Vucevic Has Definitely Gotten Off on the Right Foot

The Bulls opened up preseason play on Tuesday, losing to the New Orleans Pelicans by four points at the United Center. Despite the setback, though, Vucevic had exactly the kind of night that, well… just about everyone would like to see from him on a regular basis as the 2022-23 campaign unfolds.

In a team-high 23 minutes on the court, Vucevic scored 15 points on 6-of-10 shooting (and 2-of-4 from deep) while adding a game-high 11 rebounds, four blocks, three assists and three steals. Meanwhile, the Bulls outscored the Pels by four points when he was in the game.

After the loss, Bulls coach Billy Donovan noted that the offense as a whole has to move and play with greater purpose, but that he was pleased with Vucevic’s work on the outer thirds of the court (and also in other phases of the game).

“I thought Vuc was fine,” Donovan said. “I thought he got good looks I thought he
was efficient tonight, he rebounded — I actually thought he played well.”

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