Lonzo Ball hit a trailing Nikola Vucevic with the quick underhand feed at the top of the key. Splash.
From the same spot on the floor three minutes later, Vucevic threw his hands up to alert the heavily-guarded DeMar DeRozan. Splash.
Then, Vucevic posted up the undersized Trey Lyles, pummeling him toward the rim before he missed the hook shot, missed the putback, and … third times the charm. Splash.
A jump shot from 17ft out? Splash.
Another post up on Lyles? Splash.
Fake and spin on Lyles at the rim before a quick turnaround hook shot two possessions later to call it a night? Splash. Splash.
If you’re keeping count, that’s seven buckets for the Chicago Bulls All-Star center, all of which came in an explosive 3rd quarter where he dropped 16 points. And, get this, that 7-10 performance allowed Vucevic to single-handedly outscore the Detroit Pistons in that frame. The Pistons mustered just 14 points, shooting 4-21 from the field.
Vucevic ended the night with 22 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists, and 2 steals to help Chicago pull off the 46-point victory. His final stat line felt particularly encouraging after he continued to show signs of the uncharacteristically inefficient big man we saw over the first month of the season. He followed up his 6-17 showing against the Dallas Mavericks – where he scored just 13 points and added just 6 rebounds – with an equally dismal 3-8 shooting display in the first half. He clanked open looks off the back of the rim, botched a couple of layups, and went up way too strong on a floater. But then a beautiful 3rd quarter arrived.
“He’s a guy that kind of course-correct in the game. He can see things,” head coach Billy Donovan said after the game. “He had some pretty decent looks. I think he was probably disappointed in the shots he missed. He missed some stuff around the basket. But he just kind of figures things out … That 3rd quarter to me, for him, you could kind of see his whole package. The passing, the posting up, the shooting 3’s, the mid-range, the offensive rebounding. He got a lot of things in the game there.”
Not only was it a relief to see him quickly brush off his scoring woes, but it was the kind of recognition of the moment that reflected his All-Star status. His team walked out of the locker room up just 9 points on the 9-30 Detroit Pistons. With a game scheduled roughly 24 hours later against the 2nd-best team in the Eastern Conference, the assumed goal was to wipe the floor with this developing team and make it a short night for the starters. Vucevic basically single-handedly gave the Bulls that opportunity.
Vucevic, Lonzo Ball, and DeMar DeRozan clocked just 27 minutes, the second-fewest minutes each player spent on the floor this season. Zach LaVine saw just 29 minutes of action, which was his third-fewest minutes played this season. On the front-end of a back-to-back, and in a week where the team plays four games in five days, it’s this extra rest that simply can’t be overlooked.
Posting 22 points against the NBA’s 2nd-worst team isn’t anything to rave about. I recognize that. But what Vucevic did is another reminder of how many options the Bulls have and just how helpful he continues to be.