PHOENIX -- It’s going to be more interesting everyday to watch the player that former 76er center Nik Vucevic becomes with each passing day, particularly in light of the way the second-year player is emerging.
No one in Philadelphia last season saw the soft-spoken Vucevic, the 16th selection in the 2011 draft, as anything special as his time wound down with the Sixers. In fact, we hardly saw him at all as the season wound down.
In fact, by the time the playoffs rolled around, Vucevic, who made 15 starts for the Sixers during the regular season, was little more than an afterthought. By the time the playoffs wrapped, Vucevic had made one postseason appearance, playing a grand total of three minutes and making a free throw – in a loss to Boston.
But the guy who was sometimes described as a little too meek to make a difference and was shipped to Orlando to help the Sixers acquire injured Andrew Bynum is now, all of a sudden, one of the best rebounders in the league.
Surely no one in Orlando expected Vucevic to grab the 29 rebounds he hauled in against Miami on New Year’s Eve and break the franchise’s 19-year-old single-game rebound record held by Shaquille O’Neal, but that’s exactly what he did.
If the Sixers don’t get anything out of Andrew Bynum – who is somewhere in the murky world of an unspecified ‘six-step process’ of returning to the court – trading Vucevic could turn out to be the biggest mistake they made in the offseason.
The argument goes that sometimes guys put up big numbers on bad teams, and this is true – but that’s at the offensive end. Rebounding is all heart, guts and determination. When the ball goes comes off the rim, the guy who gets it is the guy who wants it the most and it doesn’t matter what type of team he’s on.
Looking at the way things are right now, it’s not going out on a limb to suggest that Vucevic, over the long haul, will be a better rebounder than anyone currently on the Sixers active roster. He’s averaging a double-doubles (10.8 points, 10.5 rebounds, good enough for seventh in the league), and he’ shooting better than 50 percent from the floor. Over the last five games, he’ averaged 14.8 boards.
He’s only going to get better – with playing time, of course. Heck, in a few years from now we might be looking at the No. 16 pick in the 2011 draft as that class’s steal.