Sixers take Nikola Vucevic with 16th pick

The Sixers selected USC center Nikola Vucevic with the 16th overall pick in the first round. (Jae C. Hong/AP file photo)

A small step with an awfully big body. That’s how you can describe last night’s NBA draft for the 76ers as they weren’t able to make a blockbuster trade (unlike the team they share the Wells Fargo Center with) or a small one, instead standing pat with their pick at No. 16 and selecting 7-foot, 260-pound center Nikola Vucevic.

A three-year player at Southern Cal, Vucevic averaged 17.1 points and 10.3 rebounds this past season for the Trojans, posting 22 double-doubles in his 34 games.

“We are incredibly thrilled to draft Nikola Vucevic,” said coach Doug Collins. I liked him from the moment I saw him at the Chicago pre-draft camp. He is a hard working, skilled big man with a desire to succeed who gives us more size in the front court, which is a need. He is a player that we are ecstatic to have on our roster and I look forward to coaching him.”

Vucevic was one of the many players whom the Sixers brought to their facilities for a pre-draft workout. At the time, Vucevic glowed about how much he liked coach Collins and laughed when asked about Jrue Holiday, whom he faced when both were freshmen (Holiday at UCLA).

He is a player who improved in each of his three seasons in the PAC-10, leading the conference in rebounding his last two seasons. He shot 50.5 percent from the floor and 75.5 percent from the foul line.

“He’s got a great wingspan (7’ 4.5’’) and is a good shooter,” said general manager Ed Stefanski. “He’s a pick-and-pop kind of guy, a very high basketball IQ, which I think is extremely important to play for Doug Collins. He’s a good passer, he has a pro type of game right now. He’s only 20 years old, and extremely hard worker. He’s in love with Doug Collins and wanted to play for him.”

And the Sixers wanted Vucevic. In a draft void of superstars and as unpredictable as a summer thunderstorm, the Sixers say they targeted the Montenegrin early on and hoped they would land him.

“With this draft it was very difficult to project with the 16th pick a guy that would come in right away and play for the 76ers,” Stefanski said. “As we all know, with draft picks with Doug, he will play you if you deserve it and if you don’t deserve it, you won’t play.

“There were surprises all night long, we were shocked where different players went. There were times we were thinking of moving up (to secure Vucevic). We were concerned that Houston liked him. We were concerned starting with the 12th pick of the draft (that Vucevic might be gone).

The pick was the beginning of the end of a long day for the Sixers’ brass, who fielded calls all day long concerning “all players”. But the big topic of the day was whether they would move Andre Iguodala, which has been rumored for quite some time.

“We talked to so many teams about so many things, moving here and moving there,” Stefanski said. “We were very serious about moving up, but we couldn’t do it because the price was too expensive. It fell our way.”

Predicting playing time for the rookie right now is nearly impossible, but Stefanski sees time for Vucevic on the horizon.

“Because of his basketball IQ and his shooting ability and his passing, he will fight for some time as a rotation player,” Stefanski said. “I think he’s a stone cold center. He’s not going outside to cover fours (small forwards), he’s got the legit size to be a center, and that’s what he is. He’s a stretch type of center because he can shoot the ball (from outside) and around the basket he can shoot with his left or right hand. He’s your typical European type of player because he’s so fundamentally sound. He is a player we’ve seen all year, and he rose and he rose. He’s a kid that we really, really like. He was in the mix all along with us.”

The reason for Vucevic’s hysterics when asked about Holiday centered around a picture (that’s still on the internet) of the two of them when they were playing against each other in college. In the photo it appears as if Holiday is going up strong for a basket while Vucevic is ducking out of harm’s way. “He didn’t score on that play,” Vucevic insisted during his visit earlier this month. “He actually missed the shot. I swear.”

Now the two are teammates.

“Everyone talks about Jrue, he’s like the folk hero with these kids,” Stefanski said. “Their eyes light up and people want to play with Jrue and Vucevic said he would love to play with Jrue.”