RTC NBA Draft Profiles: Nikola VucevicPosted by rtmsf on May 26th, 2011
Over the course of the next month until the NBA Draft on June 23, RTC will be rolling out comprehensive profiles of the 35 collegians we feel have the best chance to hear their names called by David Stern in the first round that night. There won’t be any particular order to the list, but you can scroll back through all the finished profiles by clicking here.
Player Name: Nikola Vucevic
Height/Weight: 6’10, 240 lbs.
NBA Position: Power Forward/Center
Projected Draft Range: Late First Round
Overview: USC center Nikola Vucevic may have been the least hyped all-Pac-10 first team center that the conference has ever had. It’s a guarantee that when his name is called on draft night, most people around the country will assume “another European player” without any knowledge that the athletic 6’10, 260-pounder played college ball in sunny Los Angeles for the last three years. One of the reasons for that is because the Trojan program has spent the last two seasons recovering from the OJ Mayo/Tim Floyd debacle, and this year, even though USC ultimately made the NCAA Tournament as a #11 seed, they were summarily dismissed in the First Four by a soon-to-be-Cinderella VCU Rams. But don’t let that fool you — Vucevic was the lone offensive bright spot on a team that scrapped and defended its way to 19 wins and a berth in the postseason that most west coast observers thought unlikely. His consistent post game, shooting range, care with the ball and knack for rebounding anchored a Trojan team that had little else to hang its hat on; but it could count on a double-double from the big Montenegran almost every night out (22 last season). He averaged 17.1 PPG, 10.3 RPG, and 1.4 BPG in nearly 35 minutes of action each night, and his efficiency in both shooting the ball (75% of FTs; 54% of twos; 35% of threes) and rebounding (he grabbed 26% of boards on the defensive glass) makes you wonder why a guy with such a nice low-post game isn’t getting more buzz as a sleeper pick this year.
Will Translate to the NBA: You certainly can’t teach size, and Vucevic has a body built for banging around in the paint at the next level. His draft measurements put him at the very top of this year’s class in terms of height (just a shade under seven feet with shoes on) and reach (nearly nine-and-a-half feet). His draft weight is also ideal because he’ll ultimately be asked to hold his position defensively against some of the elite NBA bigs inside, and although he can stand to become a bit stronger, he’s already very far along in this area. The other area where he’s already at an NBA level is his exceptionally nice touch with the ball in terms of shooting ability. He has an established and consistent mid-range game and shoots the ball well from the foul line. After making only eight three-pointers in his first two seasons at USC, he nearly quadrupled that number last season (29). There’s no reason to believe he can’t become an excellent shooter when he finds openings in the defense.
Needs Work: The question for Vucevic in the NBA will be whether he plays as a four or an undersized five. He has the length to play center, but his post game isn’t as developed as his face-up skill set. He has the face-up game to play the four, but not the lateral quickness to guard players 25 feet from the basket who can easily put the ball on the floor. This decision will ultimately determine the arc of his career, but it says here that the better choice for him will be to become a sweet-shooting four who can bust defenses wide open out to 22 feet if left to his own devices.
Comparison Players: To that end, Andrea Bargnani from the Toronto Raptors or Mehmet Okur from the Indiana Pacers should be his idols — big men who can shoot the ball from distance while putting up nice numbers (~17/7) in starter’s minutes. Given that Vucevic will not be 21 years old until October and he’s already shown vast improvement in only three years in the US, there’s no reason to believe he cannot eventually become a very good player in the NBA.
Best Case Scenario: The best case for Vucevic is actually if there’s a lockout and a team near the bottom of the first round (say, the San Antonio Spurs) could stash him away overseas for a year or two until he’s a little more ready for the nightly rigors of the NBA. He can play now, but the speed and athleticism of the game will probably require a fairly significant period of adjustment defensively (his shooting ability is already NBA-quality). After a couple of seasons maturing, he would come back into the NBA as a solid sixth man and eventually develop into an Okur type of player by the time he’s 25.
2014 Projection: We don’t believe the above scenario will play out like that, though. By 2014, Vucevic will still only be 23 years old with his best days ahead of him. He’ll probably have developed into a reliable bench player who can provide efficient spot minutes to the starters at the four and five slots. Given his prospective abilites, though, he’ll probably be a great candidate for teams looking for its face-up power forward of the future. His peak should occur in the 2015-20 range.
Best NBA Fit: The best NBA fit for Vucevic is with a team that has the capacity to let him develop defensively without wrecking his confidence on the offensive end. This means teams already with a good stable of big men. The Bulls with Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer and Taj Gibson might make sense; or the Trailblazers with LaMarcus Aldridge, Marcus Camby and Luke Babbitt already in tow. In a few years he may have developed to the point where he could take over for one of the older players on one of these teams.
Scout’s Take (Chris Denker from Netscouts Basketball): “I like him… he has good hands… he’s a really good rebounder and can defend on the low block… he’s a good enough shooter to make 17-footers… I see him as a role-playing guy.”