Might Surprise Us: Nikola Vucevic
One of the primary reasons I’ve advocated for the Chicago Bulls to avoid a first-round matchup with the Milwaukee Bucks or Philadelphia 76ers is because of the mismatches their superstar big men Giannis Antetokounmpo and Joel Embiid can cause for teams with a weak interior defense. Although he may be outmatched against these two MVP candidates, Nikola Vucevic could still shine in the playoffs if given ample opportunity.
Many fans were out on Vucevic after he struggled mightily last season, but he has by all accounts bounced back in a huge way this year. Although his points, rebounds, and assists per game have remained almost the exact same from 2021-22 to 2022-23, his shooting splits are what really inspire hope.
Knocking down 47.3% of his field goals, 31.4% of his threes, and 76% of free throws last year, it’s been an enormous relief to see those numbers increase to 52.1%, 35.4%, and 82.4%, respectively. For the first time since acquiring the big man at the 2021 trade deadline, it genuinely feels like Chicago has a third All-Star caliber talent capable of taking games over on the roster.
Of course, Vucevic is set to hit unrestricted free agency this summer, so he has every incentive he’ll ever need to play well in the postseason. The Bulls didn’t receive all that many nationally televised games this season, so this will be his best opportunity to advertise his talents and secure one last large contract while he still can.
For that reason alone, it’s worth keeping an eye on Vucevic in the postseason. But unlike last year, he’s actually playing well enough to inspire hope he can be a real difference-maker.