#16: Nikola Vucevic
76ers GM Rod Thorn is the man who chose Michael Jordan.
That fact is more of an anecdote in Mr. Thorn’s illustrious career as opposed to a sign of genius. But 76ers fans can feel confident knowing that he’s learned a thing or two in all his years in the game.
Specifically, Philadelphians should feel good about USC center Nikola Vucevic, the 76ers’ first-round draft pick and 16th overall selection, because he fills a serious need for the team. And, just as importantly, Vucevic seems like he’s going to love Philadelphia.
“Like I said, it’s one of my favorite teams I wanted to get picked by,” he told reporters. “I played against [76ers guard] Jrue Holiday when he was at UCLA, so I know him a little bit and I got to meet a couple of players when I went there to work out. I think they are a great fit for me and I think I will be able to fit in there really well and I’m really looking forward to it.
“This was by far the greatest moment of my life,” he continued. “When I heard my name called, I was just going to hold myself, I had to cry a little bit and hug my parents and my agent. It was a great feeling. I’m looking forward to the next step now. It’s just starting now and I’m going to work as hard as I ever did now to play at the next level.”
There are many things that make this a good fit. First of all, Philadelphia’s current center, Spencer Hawes, is a restricted free agent when free agency begins, which means the team may or may not match offers for the seven-footer. But even if Thorn decides to keep him, Hawes lacks fundamental skills that most centers possess. He ranks 29th among centers in rebounding rate and he was tied for 36th among all centers in Player Efficiency Rating with Miami’s Zydrunas Ilgauskas. Hawes also struggles to block shots (less than one per game), and seeing as he’s about to enter his fifth NBA season, he may not get much better.
Vucevic, on the other hand, is a great rebounder (10.3 RPG this past season as a junior) and an adequate shot blocker (1.4 per game last year). But what’s really impressive about the 7-0, 265-pound Montenegro native is how he scored in his final season with the Trojans. Vucevic went from averaging 10.7 PPG as a sophomore, to scoring 17.1 PPG as a junior. Considering he never shot below 50% from the field in any of his three collegiate seasons, there’s a good chance he can replicate those numbers in the NBA. Also, having a defensive-minded coach like Doug Collins won’t hurt his development either.
He’s not going to get tons of playing time right away, but considering he’ll have three talented young guards (Holiday, Evan Turner and Lou Williams) feeding him and Elton Brand to teach him the nuances of the post, Vucevic is definitely in a situation to succeed.
“I’m just looking forward to get in the process and start practicing with the team and working out and get to know my teammates, and then whatever happens, happens,” he said of starting. “I’m not thinking about starting or anything. I just want to get my team and work as hard as I can and get some playing time.”
“There’s a lot of things that I can still work and become stronger, but one of the main things that people questioned was my toughness but I think I learned how to play tough and aggressive in college and coming to college in America, I think that helped me a lot,” Vucevic continued. “I think I will be able to play the position in the NBA.”
The biggest issues with Vucevic seem to be his athleticism, but if he adds strength without sacrificing his footwork, he should make for a fine NBA player.