Did Nikola Vucevic Deserve His Contract Extension?
I'm not really sure what the public perception is on Nikola Vucevic because the Orlando Magic haven't been great in the two years he has been with the team.
In his rookie season with the Philadelphia 76ers, he averaged just under 16 minutes per game, but in his sophomore and junior years in the league, Vucevic has played over 31 minutes per game with the Magic and has posted some really impressive stats.
For those reasons, Vucevic, who turns 24 on October 24th, 2014, has earned himself a 4-year, $54 million contract extension from the Magic.
But Vucevic did miss 25 games last year and did not play a game after April 4. Vucevic had a sore Achilles and planned to return once healthy, but on April 13, the Magic shut him down for the rest of the season.
Still, the Magic are committed to the seven-footer. Was it the right move, though?
The Main Act
Vucevic has become the main man in Orlando.
But he did that before he inked his name on the dotted line to become the Magic's highest-paid player.
Vucevic led the Magic in nERD, which is sort of like win shares. nERD indicates how many games above or below .500 a team should expect to be with that player as a starter. Vucevic in 2013-14 posted a nERD of 1.6, which led the Magic. Basically, a team with 5 Vucevic-caliber players should expect to go 8 games over .500, which isn't too bad - especially in the Eastern Conference.
That trio was also the only group of Magic players to post a positive nF efficiency score, which estimates how many points a player adds or subtracts to his team if he were to be a starter. Vuc's nF efficiency score was 0.7 while Harris had a 0.4 nF efficiency and O'Quinn had a 0.2 efficiency.
The Magic had very few efficient players last year, and of them all, Vucevic was clearly the best option.
Learning New Tricks?
Despite all of the positives, there is a bit of concern surrounding the hefty extension.
I won't really focus on the injury risk of Vucevic. While he did miss 25 games last year, he played in 77 in the 2012-13 season. Spinning it one way or another is just conjecture, and I'm just here for the numbers.
One concern, though, is that his averages did not really climb this past season from where they were two years ago. That's not a bad thing necessarily because his production was already impressive, but it's unclear whether Vucevic is trending upward or settling on a plateau.
Here are his per-36 numbers and shooting averages from his past two seasons.
His production improved in some places and dropped in others, but there isn't a clear indication one way or another.
But he was already producing at a very high level, particularly rebounding, so knocking his lack of improvement isn't my intention. His 11.0 rebounds per game would have ranked 8th in the NBA last year had he played enough games to qualify for the league leaders.
That's actually a bit disappointing for Vucevic because, in the year prior, his 11.9 rebounds per game in 77 games did qualify him for the leaderboard. He ranked second behind only Dwight Howard (12.4 rebounds per game).
Still, Vucevic averaged a double-double, and that puts him in some pretty good company at the center position.
The 10-Plus Rebound Club
This season, 8 centers hauled in at least 10.0 rebounds per game, and Vucevic was one of them.
All but one of them, Andrew Bogut, also averaged double-digits in points.
But Vucevic fell short to those guys in nERD and nF efficiency, which is a bit concerning, though some of these guys are seasoned veterans. Here are those eight guys, sorted by nERD. I've included their salaries for comparison to Vucevic's new deal of roughly $13.5 million per season. (Salaries found on ESPN.com.)
So, Vucevic doesn't quite compare to those players in terms of overall impact, evidenced by his nERD and nF efficiency.
However, those other 7 players would add at least 4.8 wins over .500 as starters on an average team. And they would provide a 1.5-point boost or more to a team as a starter.
Basically, all of those guys are good additions to their teams (and, theoretically, any team on which they would play). While Vucevic isn't quite on par with them, he was in a pretty rare club considering only seven centers averaged a double-double last year. If he does, in fact, improve his numbers and join this company, then the Magic will have granted him a pretty fair deal.
What about the other five guys? Well, here is how they fared during their age-23 seasons.
In terms of nERD and nF efficiency, Vucevic didn't vault to the top of the list, but he did have a fairly solid season at this age compared to the double-digit rebounders from 2013-14 when they were 23.
In terms of raw production, Vucevic looks pretty impressive, but he does not yet possess the defensive potential to have the overall impact that these other, high-volume rebounders exhibit either at age 23 or in the 2013-14 season - Bogut's 23-year-old campaign excluded.
A Good Deal for Both Parties?
With consecutive seasons of at least 11.0 rebounds per game, Vucevic has shown that he very may well be one of the most prolific rebounders in the NBA for the foreseeable future. And seeing that not all of those guys were miles ahead of Vucevic at age 23 is very promising for the Montenegrin big man.
At roughly $13.5 million for 4 years, the Magic have locked up a fantastic rebounder who can also put points on the board. Whether he improves or not remains to be seen, but this much is true.
On contract through age 27, Vucevic has time to develop into a more complete player whether that comes from an increased focus on defensive prowess or a heavier points-per-game average. Providing some of the best center numbers in the league already at under $2 million has allowed the Magic to reward Vucevic with a fair-yet-optimistic outlook for their new centerpiece.
Not every contract in the NBA makes sense, but this one seems to be ideal for both Vucevic and the Magic, who could be one of the most exciting franchises in the league by the time Vucevic's contract needs renewed.