How Nikola Vucevic’s current status affects the Chicago Bulls

Nikola Vucevic, Chicago Bulls Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports
Nikola Vucevic, Chicago Bulls Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports /

Nikola Vucevic is listed as questionable ahead of Monday’s matchup with the Philadelphia 76ers.

The Chicago Bulls could be without their frontcourt anchor in Nikola Vucevic against Joel Embiid and the 76ers. Vucevic has been dealing with hamstring tightness for a week now and did not practice Sunday afternoon.

Vucevic has had an up-and-down season on paper, but despite his scoring decline, his overall presence has helped make the Bulls an elite team in the East.

Chicago relies on Vucevic, Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan to be their primary scorers. While the ball is mainly in LaVine’s and DeRozan’s hands, Vucevic leaves a thick stamp on their offense in ways that don’t always show up on the stat sheet.

Like most bigs in today’s NBA, Vucevic is a shooting threat and willing passer. His biggest contribution to Bulls this season has been this efficiency in the pick and roll — he leads the league in pick and roll efficiency. As a screen setter who gets the ball back after either rolling to the basket or popping out on the perimeter, Vucevic leads the league pick and roll possessions with 383. The next player is Jusuf Nurkic at 214.

Vucevic has the most opportunities in the league to score on the pick and roll, and leads the league with 6.4 points per game. He’s also an elite passer in such situations, often getting the offense into their secondary options in pick and roll sets. Often times, the Bulls score on the next pass, giving Vucevic a “hockey assist” – a stat that doesn’t show on in the box score.

Since the All-Star break, he’s been reverting back to All-Star form on the stat sheet, though. Over the last five games, Vucevic is averaging 15.4 points, 12.2 rebounds and 4.1 assists in 36.2 minutes per contest. His 3-point shot has been good at 37.5% (he’s 58.2% from the field overall).

That means he’s shooting an absurd 67.4% on two pointers. Nearly 56% of his shot attempts have come in the paint during this stretch, forcing defenses to crash in on him because of his success/presence. He’s also creating perimeter opportunities for players like Coby White through his inside activity.

For Monday’s matchup against Philly, Vucevic will be key to neutralizing MVP candidate Joel Embiid. While Vucevic didn’t have a great outing in the first two games against the Sixers, he did find a stride in their early February matchup, scoring 23 points with seven rebounds and five assists.

While Vucevic isn’t an inside enforcer on defense by any stretch, he’s a big with length. When it comes to defending great players, it isn’t always about shutting them down. It’s about wearing them down and neutralizing them to an extent, which Vucevic is capable of.

Vucevic also presents the challenge of forcing Embiid to play defense — another key in stopping great players. Making a gifted offensive player lock in on the defensive end wears out their leads and sometimes forces them into foul trouble. Vucevic’s recent inside activity will force Embiid to play defense and box out, which are two things he doesn’t do consistently.

In the event Vucevic misses the contest, Bulls fans are hoping Tristan Thompson can offer a similar impact given the Eastern Conference implications this game has.