Why Nikola Vucevic Should Be an NBA All-Star

Nikola Vucevic was once thought of as an afterthought of the Dwight Howard trade, but he is having an All-Star worthy season.

Nikola Vucevic was once thought of as a throw-in to the massive three-team trade that ultimately sent Dwight Howardto the Los Angeles Lakers.

However, it turns out he was the best piece in the entire 11-player trade outside of Howard, and he is putting up career numbers in literally every offensive category except offensive rebounding.

He is the go-to guy for the Magic, evidenced by a usage rate above 25%. While Vucevic still has limitations on the defensive end, he is by far worthy enough to be selected by the coaches as one of the reserve members of the Eastern Conference’s frontcourt.

A Look at His Numbers

While the argument can be made that Vucevic can’t be an All-Star because of the Magic’s record of 15-33, I invite you to give me another center in the East who is having a better season offensively than Vucevic is.

Vucevic was, up until a week or so ago, leading among East centers in PER (thanks, Hassan Whiteside). According to our nERD metric, he is currently fifth in the East among centers. Vucevic has a nERD of 4.4, which indicates that a league-average team would be expected to win about 4.4 games above .500 with him as a starter.

The Magic have an offensive rating three points higher with Vucevic on the floor than without him, and his per-36 numbers of 20.4 points and 11.7 rebounds are as good or better than every center in the NBA with the exception of DeMarcus Cousins. Out of all the centers in the East, only Tyler Zeller, Al Horford, and Whiteside have a better a offensive rating than Vucevic has.

For a center who is only 23 years-old, Vucevic has an arsenal of moves around the rim, and they are all starting to come together here in his fourth season. After hanging around 63% for his career, this season Vucevic is shooting over 70% from the floor between 0-3 feet, and he is shooting a career-high 47% from beyond 16-feet.

In terms of what he would bring to the actual All-Star game, he could give the East some offensive punch off the bench that Andre Drummond (assuming he is the other center selected by the coaches) can’t.

Defender in Training

However, while he already got his contract extension from the Magic this offseason, the one area of Vucevic’s game that gets scrutinized the most is his defense.

Starting with the good though, Vucevic is one of the best defensive rebounders in the NBA. He has been inside the top 10 in defensive rebounding percentage in the last three seasons, and his mark of 27.1% right now is good for 10th in the league. In 2012-13, he finished fifth at 28.4%. He is also currently fifth in total rebounds this season.

However, outside of rebounding the ball, the numbers don’t tell a great tale this season on defense. Vucevic is currently posting a career-worst defensive rating of 106. Plus, Vucevic also has a defensive box plus/minus of 0.0. This is an estimate of defensive points per 100 possessions a player contributes, and the league average is zero. This ranks him 12th among Eastern Conference starting centers.

Ultimately, the good seems to outweigh the bad with Vucevic, and you have to remind yourself that he is still young. There are only 11 players in the entire NBA who have a higher usage rate and PER than Vucevic, and four of them have already been voted into the All Star Game. Plus he is doing everything for the Magic right now. No other Magic player who averages at least 20 minutes per game has a positive nERD.

In the month of January he is averaging 22.7 points and 11 rebounds per game, while shooting 55% from the floor. He has also reached the 30-point mark three times in the Magic’s last nine games.

He does not defend at an elite level yet, and maybe he never will, but for such a young player, Vucevic’s offense is comparable to some of the best big men in the NBA and is why his breakout season is worthy of his first All-Star selection.