When the Orlando Magic sent superstar center Dwight Howard away in the offseason, there was much uncertainty about the future of the franchise. There still is as the bulk of what the Magic acquired will come in the form of draft picks. But as Orlando builds for what it hopes is a bright future, the future seems set at one position, Howard’s position, center.
As the Magic look to add pieces to once again become a formidable NBA team, Orlando seems to have already found its man in the middle for years to come. 22-year-old Nikola Vucevic was acquired from the Philadelphia 76ers in the multi-team deal that sent Howard to Los Angeles.
Orlando is definitely in a rebuilding mode and will continue to look to add young talent moving forward. But in Vucevic, the Magic have already found their staple at center.
Vucevic is averaging a double-double with 11.4 points and 11 rebounds-per-game. The young center is also shooting about 50 percent from the field and in 36 games, Vucevic has recorded 18 double-doubles. Vucevic is fourth in the NBA this season in rebounding and has already made his case as one of the better centers in the Eastern Conference.
Vucevic leads all Eastern Conference centers in rebounding and is seventh among East centers in scoring and that list includes a traditional power forward in Miami’s Chris Bosh. Vucevic has recorded a double-double in seven consecutive games as the Magic get set to face the Washington Wizards on Monday.
While Vucevic has yet to make the city of Orlando forget about the Dwight Howard era of Magic basketball, Vucevic possesses a number of skills that Howard didn’t. Sure, Vucevic may not be the enforcer in the middle or the naturally gifted athlete that Howard is, but he does have range on his shot and is capable of becoming better than a 70 percent shooter from the charity stripe.
Vucevic also possesses a more complete offensive game on the block. While Howard was able to develop a jump-hook with both his right and left hand, Howard relied more on his strength and freakish athleticism. Vucevic already has a nice looking jump-hook and can, much like Howard, be used effectively in the pick-and-roll. Unlike Howard however, Vucevic can also pick and pop and force taller defenders away from the basket.
Playing against the league’s best has not been an issue for Vucevic either. On Saturday, with the Magic on a 10-game losing streak and facing a team tied for the NBA’s best record, the Los Angeles Clippers, Vucevic put up 18 points and 15 rebounds. In the fourth quarter, Vucevic touched up a long jumper to tie the game at 95 and threw down a dunk to put Orlando up three with just seconds to play in a 104-101 victory.
Against the defending champion Miami Heat on New Year’s Eve, Vucevic scored a career-high 20 points and ripped down a franchise-record 29 rebounds in an overtime loss. Since then, Vucevic has already equaled his career-high of 20 points.
Vucevic is not yet on Dwight Howard’s level, but is 1-0 against him as a member of the Magic. When Orlando defeated the Lakers in Los Angeles back on December 2nd, Vucevic finished with 17 points and 12 rebounds. In that game, Vucevic scored 11 of his 17 in the fourth quarter as the Magic pulled away from L.A.
Rebuilding the Orlando Magic into a contender is still a work in progress to say the least, but Orlando seems to be set at the five-spot. The Magic still have a walking double-double manning the center position despite the loss of Howard. At only 22 years old, the Switzerland-born 7-footer still has a ton of upside. While the Magic are probably at least a few years away from being a contender to reach the NBA Finals, finding a replacement for Howard seems to be something that has already been taken care of.
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