Chicago Bulls’ Nikola Vucevic continues disappointing season

(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images) /

On March 25th, 2021, the Chicago Bulls traded Wendell Carter Jr., Otto Porter Jr., and two first-round draft picks to the Orlando Magic for two-time All-Star center Nikola Vucevic. The Bulls were looking for a proven veteran to shoulder some of Zach LaVine’s offensive load and ultimately convinced LaVine that the franchise had its eye on winning.

A year later, the Bulls sit near the top of the Eastern conference, gearing up for their first playoff berth since 2017.

Sadly, most of this season’s success can’t be attributed to Vucevic. Offseason additions DeMar DeRozan, Lonzo Ball, and Alex Caruso, as well as second-round draft pick Ayo Dosunmu, have all made greater impacts than the veteran center, who is in the midst of one of the least-productive seasons of his career.

Is Nikola Vucevic to blame for his inefficient scoring season?

Vucevic’s scoring averages this season are all clearly below his career marks. He is posting his lowest three-point percentage (30.9%) since 2017. He’s posting his lowest effective field goal percentage (51.4%) and points per game (17.9) since 2018.

Vucevic may not be entirely to blame for these regressions, however. The big man is being used in different ways than he’s accustomed to this season, having been forced into head coach Billy Donovan’s scheme and a guard-heavy roster for which no other starter eclipses 6’6”.

Having so many guards has effectively taken the ball out of Vucevic’s hands this season. He is averaging 1.57 seconds per touch of the basketball and 0.51 dribbles per touch. The last time either of these numbers was so low was 2014. He is averaging the least amount of paint touches of his career and the second-least amount of post touches.

Most of Vucevic’s production has come from plays in which he’s acting as a pick & roll roll man. These plays account for 37.6 percent of his usage, easily the highest mark of his career since playtype metrics were introduced in 2016. With an effective field goal percentage of 49 percent on these plays, however, Vucevic’s increased usage here corresponds to his lowest shooting efficiency since 2017.

He has been similarly inefficient on post ups, a play that accounts for 17.2 percent of his usage this season. Vucevic has always been the most efficient on isolation plays, where his effective field goal percentage sits at a career-high 55.6 percent this season. Unfortunately, with so many ball-handlers surrounding him, Vucevic only goes to iso on one percent of his shots, the lowest frequency of his career.

light. Related Story. Chicago Bulls are outmatched by Miami Heat

With so many passers on the team, Vucevic leads the NBA with 7.8 catch & shoot attempts per game. Traditionally a player who likes to create his own shot, this doesn’t benefit Vucevic, who is averaging the third-worst effective field goal percentage on catch & shoot attempts (45.7%) of the 109 players averaging at least 3.5 attempts per game this season.

Other aspects of Nikola Vucevic’s game have suffered this season, namely defense and offensive rebounding.

Vucevic has been one of the most productive offensive rebounders in the NBA in past seasons. In 2017, Vucevic led all starting centers in adjusted offensive rebound chance percent, which is basically a statistic that measures how often a player records an offensive rebound on shots in which they are the closest player to the ball at any point in time between when the ball has come off the rim until when it’s fully rebounded. Vucevic finished in the top 10 in this category for six years between 2014 and 2020. This season, he sits at 20th among starting centers.

Vucevic is averaging the third-least amount of offensive rebounds since his rookie year in 2012. His 0.21 offensive rebounds per defensive rebounds is the lowest rate of his career, and the Bulls currently sit at 29th in the NBA in offensive rebounds and 28th in second chance points.

Again, Vucevic can’t receive all of the blame for this, being the tallest Bulls starter by a full five inches, but there’s no doubt he’s lost some of his offensive paint presence while the ball is in the air. This is evident when looking at Vucevic’s contested rebound percentage (39.8%), which is the second lowest of his career.

Next. Analysis of DeMar DeRozan's special season. dark

Vucevic is a fantastic NBA player, and the Bulls are lucky to have him. His inefficient season points to a very concerning truth, though: Vucevic just doesn’t fit into the current Bulls style. The Bulls need Vucevic to be a spot up shooter who crashes the offensive glass, bullies other centers in the paint, and has keen eye for interior defense.

Vucevic just isn’t athletic or agile enough to lock down the inside, where the Bulls allow the sixth most points in the NBA. He isn’t a good enough catch & shoot jump shooter, and he’s not quick enough to create at a high clip off the pick & roll.

The Swiss big man is undoubtedly a very valuable asset, but he’s not the asset the Bulls need right now.