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The Bulls re-signed Nikola Vucevic. Now will they get him the ball?

Team USA failing to win a medal drew more headlines, but Bulls center Nikola Vucevic had a nice performance at the FIBA World Cup last month. Vucevic averaged 19.8 points and 8.8 rebounds for Montenegro, which went 3-2 to finish in 11th place. This suggests a couple of things.

A. Vucevic, who turns 33 later this month, is still a talented player and should bring a decent return on the three-year, $60-million extension he signed with the Bulls this summer.

B. He’s at his best when getting touches in the post, something Montenegro did regularly.

Now, that’s not breaking news or anything. When the Bulls sent two first-round picks to Orlando in 2021, they knew Vucevic was used to playing in the post. Since joining the Bulls, Vucevic seems to produce better numbers when he gets those early touches, but they’ve never done it consistently.

Is that because of coaching? Is it because his teammates don’t look for him? Or have the Bulls just decided getting the ball to Vucevic in the post is a low priority?

At media day, Vucevic was asked if his role was discussed during contract negotiations. He wouldn’t have been a hot commodity on the open market, since few team had cap space, but he chose to re-sign with the Bulls before free-agency even began.

“Yeah, there was a lot of discussion about that,” Vucevic said. “That was a big thing for me. A lot of stuff we talked about was more with Billy (Donovan) because he’s the head coach and he’s the one that makes those decisions. But it was finding ways to utilize me more.”


        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        

 

Playing through a European center was a championship-winning strategy for the Denver Nuggets last season. Vucevic can compete with two-time MVP Nikola Jokic in points and rebounds, but Vucevic is well behind in assists, where his career-high is 3.8 per game.

Vucevic made a pitch for getting him more opportunities to be a playmaker out of the post.

“You have Denver with Jokic, you have Miami with Bam (Adebayo),” Vucevic said. “Teams like that use their big man a lot as a playmaker and I think we also have a team that can function that way.

“We had a lot of issues going inside-out and creating scoring opportunities that way. We weren’t as good of a driving team as we need to be … and so that could be an opportunity for us to do it, out of my post-ups. Especially if I start getting double-teamed and things like that, it opens up things for us where we can also generate 3s.”

This game ultimately meant nothing, but Vucevic did produce 25 points, 15 rebounds and 3 assists when the Bulls beat a full-strength Nuggets squad by 17 points on the road last March. Drawing double-teams is something that can happen.

        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        

 

Donovan started training camp talking about wanting to play faster, a style that doesn’t favor Vucevic. But the Bulls also want to get into the paint and shoot more free throws, which he could help with; and the Bulls were last in the league in made 3-pointers last year. If the transition game isn’t there, feeding Vucevic in the post matches some team goals.

“A lot of conversations I had with Billy before I signed and after I signed … how I could be utilized and where we could do a lot of stuff I like,” Vucevic said. “I think there’s a lot of different options we could do where I could become a playmaker. That could help a lot.”

There wasn’t much to take out of Sunday’s preseason opener in Milwaukee, except maybe the performance of Coby White. He led the Bulls with 14 points and 6 assists, and was second to Andre Drummond with 6 rebounds.

The Bulls ended up losing 105-102 to a Bucks team playing without Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and newcomer Damian Lillard, but the Bulls starters didn’t play much and did build a 30-16 lead in the first quarter.
After spending last week in Nashville, the Bulls will move practice to the Advocate Center ahead of Thursday’s preseason home game against the Nuggets.

Twitter: @McGrawDHSports

        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        
        

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