Bulls starting center Nikola Vucevic is off to a slow shooting start to the 2021-22 season. To compound that, he has had to sit out the last seven games due to league health and safety protocol after a positive covid-19 test nearly two weeks back. Despite his absence, Chicago has found a way to be successful and still win games and have people thinking maybe we’re better off without him. I’m here to give you a few reasons as to why that’s wrong though.
The two-time all-star has never been known as an “elite” defender or rim protector by any means. His below-average athleticism and struggles to move his feet have given people the idea that he’s a liability on defense more than anything. While Vucevic still struggles to move his feet and stay in front of the opposition when drug out of the paint, he’s been solid this season.
He currently leads the team averaging 11.1 rebounds a game and is posting a career-high in steals at 1.2 a game so far. He doesn’t gamble much and does a good job of being solid and helping on drives when needed. He is averaging a career-high in deflections at 3 a game which is second on the team only trailing Alex Caruso.
While he’s not the prototypical rim protector that is going to blow you away with crazy blocks, he is very valuable to this Bulls team on defense and is crucial to the gameplan even when the shots aren’t falling on the other end.
While Chicago has found a lot of success with their small-ball lineups. The Bulls don’t have much depth as far as bigs go. With Patrick Williams out for the season, Bulls fans have seen lineups with Javonte Green and Alex Caruso starting at power forward, and while they’ve been great, they’re naturally guards, so Chicago is already undersized.
Having Vucevic out and Tony Bradley starting in his place compounds this even worse. When Bradley goes out Alize Johnson has played center and at only 6’7 teams have taken advantage of the Bulls during many of these stretches. Take the Bull’s most recent game against the Pacers for reference.
The Pacers are a very large team with the likes of Myles Turner and Domantis Sabonis in the paint for Indiana. Coming into the 2nd half of a back to back a depleted roster couldn’t keep up with them. Chicago was outrebounded 59 to 38 and lost 109 to 77 on their home floor. By no means would Vucevic have won that game for the Bulls but surely it would’ve been more competitive.
Even with the low shooting numbers the Bulls have found a lot of success in pick and roll and pick and pop situations. Vucevic is the clear third wheel and his numbers were always going to go down. In Orlando, there were no other stars and although he doesn’t create for himself much, he was getting plenty of feeds and was averaging 19 to 20 shots per game every year.
This season with two other stars who are more creative he’s only putting up 14.4 shots a game, the lowest of his career since his first three seasons in the Association. While he hasn’t been knocking down his shots, defenses know he can and that opens up the floor for DeMar DeRozan and Zach Lavine who are both having monster years. The proof is in their record as well, with Vucevic the Bulls are 8-4 compared to 4-3 without him including their only two blowout losses. It’s safe to say given all of this, Bulls fans should be extremely happy Vucevic is finally back.
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