In Appreciation of Nikola

6 min read

The Era of Niko

You weren’t sure which Nikola I was talking about were you? Well, 3 Niko’s have been having huge seasons. As a result, they’re all in the top 20 players in fantasy basketball so far. All 3 deserve discussion (in fact Starks wrote about Mirotic here), but this article will focus on the amazing play of Orlando Magic Center, Nikola Vucevic.

Amazing Start

Vuc has been surprising the league with an absurd #5 ranking in fantasy basketball. His game has no real holes and is a perfect big to build around for a punt block build. Vooch has been hitting career highs for points, assists, FG%, and FT%. He’s also tied career highs for 3’s and steals while claiming his highest rebound average since the 2012-13 season.

FG%FT%PointsRebAssistsStealsBlock3’sTO
55.385.320.811.13.91.11.01.12.1

To put this in context along better-known centers:

  • The 20.8 points are 3rd highest (behind AD and Embiid)
  • The 3.9 assists are 4th
  • 11.1 boards is good for 10th

He’ll never lead the league in any individual category, but to call Vuc a jack of all trades is a slight to his contributions. He’s very good to excellent in almost every category. The efficiency, and in particular the increase in FG% has been a particularly nice bonus to fantasy basketball GMs that drafted him this season. Niko is a walking double-double and has a solid shot at finishing this season as a rare 20-10 guy. Also consider that he is a triple one guy, a title that only he and Marc Gasol currently hold as centers. The blocks are low for a big, but that is pretty much his only weakness.

He’s no Dirk, but Vuc is confident in that shot. The stroke is fluid and high, and quick enough to be effective.

 

The passing ability and court vision are extremely solid and an underrated part of his game. Niko is great at drawing the defense and then finding the open man.

 

On the court, it’s clear that he’s the best player on the floor. Aaron Gordon is supposed to be the man, but Vuc skillfully shows how to get the job done and is the biggest reason for Orlando’s surprisingly not awful start (Currently the 8th seed in the East). He’s never flashy or explosive like some of his younger teammates, but Vuc seems to always be in the right position, making the smart use of space and footwork and generally making the right play.

On offense, he’s proven to be an efficient scorer at all 3 levels. Vuc has perfected his arsenal of efficient 3 point shooting, solid mid-range, methodical but effective post moves, excellent touch around the basket, and a super keen eye for hitting the cutter from the post. The 30.9 minutes per game are on par with what he’s done throughout his career and is a good sign that Coach Clifford leans on the big Swiss Serbian. As long as the Magic are in the mix for a playoff spot, expect Vuc to maintain his prominent role as the leader of the team, scoring and rebounding beast, and effective playmaker.  

shotchart
Niko shows diverse shot selection and above average shooting in most zones.

Exceeding Fantasy Expectations

In terms of fantasy basketball GMs, Vucevic has proven to be a very nice surprise. His draft position varied quite a bit, but at best he was being picked in the early 4th rounds and as late as the 6th round. To draft a top 10 player with virtually no weaknesses in the 50’s is a huge value and may be helping fantasy basketball teams in the same way Vuc has been helping Orlando in real life. Bigs that were generally taken before him include Draymond, Love, LMA, Jarrett Allen, Horford, and Myles Turner. Some of those players are having solid seasons, while others have been disappointments. What they all have in common is that they are being outplayed and outproduced by Vuc.

To draft a top 10 player with virtually no weaknesses in the 50’s is a huge value and may be helping fantasy basketball teams in the same way Vuc has been helping Orlando in real life.

This lack of perceived value isn’t due to past performance, Niko ranked 27, 48, and 27 overall the past 3 seasons. There have been rumors of trades that could impact his playing time and value. This has been due to the drafting of Mo Bamba, along with the feeling that Gordon and Jonathon Issac need more space and time to grow into the players they will hopefully become. For the most part, these players have flashed nice potential but clearly lack the consistency and craftiness that Vuc brings every night. As a result, Niko has endeared himself with Coach Clifford and remains the key to the team. He’s leading the team in Win Shares, Box Plus/Minus, and Value Over Replacement Player all by a wide margin, again reinforcing why Clifford loves him and will be more inclined to keep him and play him big minutes. Not to hate on Orlando, but being on the Magic may also be a contributor as to why he’s not a household name. 

OWSDWSWSWS/48OBPMDBPMBPMVORP
2.01.03.00.2114.63.07.61.7

Keep running him if he’s on your standard redraft team, I think a top 15 finish is probable. Sit back and appreciate exactly what he’s doing. For Dynasty GMs, you will need to take a serious look in the mirror. Vuc is obviously a great win-now asset and somebody to consider trading for if his boost can get you over the top. Trading a shiny new young big like Jarrett Allen for him could pay off huge in the short term while throwing caution to the wind for the future. It’s still possible that he could be traded, though I wouldn’t expect it midseason. But if he’s playing for a new team next season, he could take a hit on his minutes, production, and usage. While that would be a concern, I am a believer in his overall value as an asset in both fantasy basketball, as well as the real-life NBA. He’ll find a way to be productive no matter the situation. It also helps that Vuc can fit any fantasy basketball team build. He just blew out the candles for his 28th birthday, so he’s still in the middle of his prime. So for win-now, he’s a buy, for rebuilds, he’s a maybe, assuming other GMs are spooked by trade concerns. 

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