So Nikola Vucevic is Having One of the Most Efficient Seasons of His Career
As the Los Angeles Lakers sent two defenders to Zach LaVine, the Chicago Bulls’ All-Star made the swift pass to his center. Nikola Vucevic proceeded to miss twice – grabbing his own offensive rebound both times – before laying it in for the Bulls’ first points of the game.
Next came a hook shot over LeBron James. After that was a shot-fake and a layup off Alex Caruso’s dime. Before we knew it, the Bulls’ big man had 15 of the team’s first 17 points to go along with 5 early rebounds.
While the Bulls may have found themselves down 31-20 by the time the first quarter came to a close, it was still an impressive display from Vucevic. And it was also a reminder of the rather underrated season he’s put together.
Indeed, last year it was Vucevic who found himself playing catch up after his teammates would get off to a hot start. He had one of the least efficient shooting seasons of his career, as the Bulls watched his touch around the rim and behind the arc come and go. In his second full season in Chicago, however, Vuecvic has looked far more comfortable in his tertiary role.
He might be averaging his fewest field goal attempts per game since the 2016-17 season, but he’s doing it with career-high efficiency. Vucevic’s 57.5 effective field goal percentage is comfortably the highest of his career, per Cleaning the Glass. His second-best year came during his first All-Star season in 2018-19 when he shot 54.9 percent.
A significant reason why we’ve seen Vucevic’s efficiency tick up is because of his success in the short midrange. Cleaning the Glass declares this area of the floor as anywhere outside 4ft of the rim but still inside the free throw line. In other words, this is primarily going to be the area where we see Vucevic uses his hook shot.
Vucevic is currently shooting 56 percent on the season in this short midrange area of the court, which Cleaning the Glass ranks inside the league’s 90th Percentile. He’s never shot better than 49 percent in this area of the floor.
If we dig even deeper and look at his success rate specifically on hook shots, things become that much more impressive. NBA Stats categorizes every attempt a player had throughout the season, and they have Vucevic taking 189 hook shots this year. Of those 189, the big man has hit 123, which means he’s shooting 65.1 percent on those attempts. Not only is this a career-high, but it’s a whole 13.9 percent better than what we saw last season.
We’ve also seen very similar success on his floating jump shot, which is another move he’ll often turn to in this short mid-range area of the floor. He’s shooting 65.6 percent on those shots, per NBA Stats, and his 61 attempts actually happen to be a career-high. Some of that may simply be how he’s getting the ball in this specific Bulls offense, but it could also suggest that it’s a shot he should look for even more frequently.
While I get that this individual season from Vucevic may feel a bit hollow due to the team’s overall success, it could truly carry a lot of weight this offseason. Let’s not forget that the center is headed toward unrestricted free agency. When we consider how poorly he performed last year, there is no question that stats like those shown above have helped greatly raise his price tag. And that’s something the Bulls have to keep in mind.
A season like this can help demonstrate to other teams what Vucevic might look like as he heads toward 33 years old and enters a new stage of his career. While he might not be a preferred first or second offensive option on a team, he’s still a double-double machine who is now converting his shots at a better rate than ever before. To put it differently, he’s proving how effective he’s learned to be with a shrunken usage rating. And it’s not hard to see several contenders wanting to add that to the mix.
Anyway, projecting what he might get and where he might land is a conversation for another day. All I wanted to do for now is give Vucevic some props for his solid play. So … yeah … here are your props, Vooch!
More from earlier this year on the Bulls’ Vucevic decision: