Wizards

Tristan Vukcevic, the Second-Round Wizard Who Could

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Yannick Nzosa. Issuf Sanon. Aaron White

Only diehard Washington fans are burdened with the knowledge that these are the names of the Wizards’ last three second-round draft picks that the team intended on keeping. 

The team selected other prospects such as Trayce Jackson-Davis and Vit Krejci who’ve gone on to see action as rotational contributors, but neither of those two ever suited up for the District. Nzosa, Sanon and White, for their parts, share zero total NBA minutes.

This unfortunate track record spans back to the 2015 NBA Draft, combining blunders from two famously dubious former executives in Ernie Grunfeld and Tommy Sheppard. The pair of disgraced directors made Washington’s basketball-related decisions from 2003-23, an extended period with minimal prolonged success.

Michael Winger and Will Dawkins took over as the team’s president and general manager, respectively, and their own recently-acquired second-round pick already looks to be breaking the streak.

Tristan Vukcevic has played only ten games as a Wizard, but he’s rapidly asserted himself as someone to invest in for the future. He only made the jump from KK Partisan, his Serbian team, last month, but the 7-foot shooter has worked his way into over 20 minutes a game across his last five outings with decisive scoring and a league-ready jumper.

He’s posted 15.2 points per game across that stretch, shooting 45.6% from the floor. He earned starts in his last four games, and played 31 pivotal minutes in a reserve role in April 2nd’s 117-113 win over the Milwaukee Bucks. 

The rookie made a name for himself overseas with his three-point stroke, shooting 40% from behind the arc in his most-recent Serbian campaign. He made three shots over the five games he played with the Wizards before hitting real minutes, each of which arrived from the perimeter. 

Vukcevic scored his first basket in Washington’s 107-105 win over the Chicago Bulls in late March, drilling an open three-point look. His next make involved another long-distance chuck, but he did it with an off-the-dribble stepback that really got people excited about his scoring potential.

He’s since catapulted that in-game creativity into several self-made buckets, showcasing solid potential attacking closeouts and quick decision making with the ball in his hands.

The stretch-center had an off-night from distance when his team hosted the Bucks, but he remained effective by relocating and driving into open space, showing comfortability putting the rock on the floor. He used his length and size to take advantage of smaller defenders in the lane, and looks to have nice touch on his floaters and layups.

He managed to parlay his pick and pops into open shots from long range, maintaining his confidence despite the 1-for-6 showing. The big also has good vision when surveying the court, finding cutters on the move and capitalizing on the numbers game.

Vukcevic recorded three assists in that win, and has totaled 12 in his last five games. It’s paired well with improved three-point results in the two games since, as he shot 3-of-6 from deep in a 125-120 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers as a spot-up and trailing weapon.

Friday’s 108-102 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers saw another spotty shooting night, but the rookie still tallied seven field goals with some more timely drives, short jumpers, cuts and rolling finishes to challenge Deandre Ayton and other opposing big men.

It was also his best defensive showing of the three-game sample size, a nice break after a pair of unfavorable matchups against Giannis Antetokounmpo and Anthony Davis.

His quick hands and solid instincts make up for his average footspeed, but Vukcevic has shown repeated willingness to run the floor, disrupt passing lanes and leave it on the floor with his effort. Two steals and a block coupled well with 17 points and seven rebounds over Portland.

Enough starts with this team meant he’d eventually see prolonged losing, but he’s handled the season’s end with sustained effort. Start #3 included more multidimensional scoring, as he continued finding the ball around the basket with second-chance points and catches off screens.

The youngster set career-highs in rebounds (nine), assists (four) and blocks (three) in Washington’s recent loss against Toronto, but Vukcevic continues showing new areas of improvement. It makes for an inspiring boost heading into the offseason, where he’ll feature as a priority player entering year two of the Wizards rebuild.

The 21-year-old second-round pick, only finally making an impact in the season’s final days, will look to keep providing optimism where it’s needed.

About Henry J. Brown

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