Two-Faced Vucevic Polarizing Chicago


Just who is Nikola Vucevic?

Really. Who is he? Is he a former all-star and double-double machine, capable of putting up gaudy stats on a nightly basis? Or is he a lead-footed defensive liability who, far too often, allows poor starts to completely tank his confidence?

There hasn’t been a more polarizing big man for the Chicago Bulls since another fellow former all-star and defensive liability graced the United Center hardwood, Carlos Boozer. The thing about players like Vucevic and Boozer is they take fans on a wild rollercoaster ride.

One night, these players are capable of putting on dominant offensive performances. The next, they are just as capable of suffering from poor shooting and looking like one of the worst defensive players in the league.

Such has been the case with Vucevic since he arrived in Chicago.

Why is Vucevic so polarizing?

To understand why so many Bulls fans are frustrated with Vucevic, one must understand the player Bulls fans believed the team was acquiring and what was surrendered for him. Last season, the Bulls traded Wendell Carter Jr., Otto Porter Jr., and lottery-protected first-round picks in both ’21 and ’23 to the Orlando Magic for Vucevic and Al-Farouq Aminu.

In Vucevic, the Bulls believed they were acquiring another all-star to pair with soon-to-be free agent, Zach LaVine. Instead, the Bulls got a Jekyll-and-Hyde big man who the franchise must now rely on to help lead them to their seventh NBA title.

After acquiring Vuc, the Bulls failed to reach the 2021 play-in tournament. The Bulls found themselves in the lottery but now owed their eighth-overall pick to the Magic. The Magic selected Franz Wagner, who has made an immediate impact and has been one of the best rookies in the league this season.

What’s worse is Chicago’s former first-round pick, Wendell Carter Jr., has experienced a leap forward since being traded to the Magic.

Between Vucevic’s play, Wagner’s impact, and Carter Jr.’s development, it is the opinion of many Bulls fans that the Bulls lost the Vucevic trade.

Vuc’s Many Faces

When observing Vucevic over the course of an NBA season, it’s noticeable that physicality often hinders him. Vucevic is already at a decisive disadvantage on the defensive end most nights, but against physical bigs, his offensive production also nosedives. Against Bam Adebayo, Rudy Gobert, Joel Embiid, Steven Adams, JaVale McGee, Deandre Ayton, Isaiah Stewart and Jonas Valanciunas, Vucevic averages 13.2 points and 9.9 rebounds per game, well below his season averages of 17.8 points and 11.1 rebounds.

Vucevic just does not play well against the premier frontcourt players in the NBA and it’s a big reason why the Bulls have such a poor record against elite teams this season. In contrast, Vucevic dominates inferior bigs with regularity and has posted some monster numbers against bigs who are defensively inept.

Despite becoming a playoff team, the Bulls look destined to be a first-round exit. While it would be unfair to blame all the Bulls’ struggles on Vucevic, he cannot be depended upon to show up in the playoffs against the league’s best when he has failed to do so all season.

Looking ahead, Vucevic — and his expiring contract — is the most expendable member of the “big three” as the Bulls will look to improve the roster this offseason. If the Bulls want to become serious contenders, they may have to come to grips with the reality that it’s time to take a long look at “Vuc” and do an about face.

About Legacy Hughes-Martin

Legacy Hughes-Martin is a regular contributor at The Lead Sports Media. Connect with him about freelance writing, sports (NBA/NFL), anime and professional wrestling on Twitter @deezthemfg or www.instagram.com/DeeZtheMFG.

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