Since being sent to the Windy City at the trade deadline in 2021, Nikola Vucevic's tenure with the Chicago Bulls has been a very inconsistent experience. Vooch impressed many with his play in 2021, but he struggled mightily in 2021-22 following the addition of DeMar DeRozan to the roster. He enjoyed a major bounce-back campaign in 2022-23, but after re-signing with Chicago over the summer he has struggled coming out of the gate this time around and has thus far put together his worst season in a Bulls uniform in 2023-24.
Perhaps it's a sign of the 33-year-old veteran showing age and declining, maybe it's because he spent too much time playing international basketball this summer rather than resting, it could even simply be due to the fact he can relax now that he's secured a hefty long-term contract extension. Whatever may be the case, it's become a problem.
That couldn't be more apparent than Tuesday night, as Vucevic's backup at the center position — Andre Drummond — received the starting nod as Nikola rested a groin injury. Drummond proved to be a massive improvement in nearly every respect, as he contributed 24 points, 25 rebounds, 3 steals, and 2 blocks against the Hawks. The Bulls looked like a far more fearsome team with Drummond defending the paint and crashing the boards, rather than hanging around the three-point line like Vucevic all too often does.
This has led many fans to wonder who will get the bulk of minutes at the center position in the Bulls' next game. I reckon it won't be too difficult of a decision for the coaching staff, however, as the injury bug seems to have already made that decision for them.
Nikola Vucevic's status for tonight's game vs. Pacers
Unfortunately, it appears the Bulls will have to survive with an even further short-handed roster just a little while longer. Per Shams Charania of The Athletic, Vooch is expected to miss at least a week due to a strained groin injury. DeMar DeRozan is now the last man standing of Chicago's originally constructed 'Big 3', while several reserve players have stepped up to fill the void. Whether the Bulls can keep winning games without so many key players available remains to be seen.
Drummond is the most obvious beneficiary of this news, as he'll look to take full advantage of his new starting role. If he performs well enough, we might even see him earn a larger role and more minutes in the rotation moving forward, even after Vucevic returns.
Projected Bulls starting lineup
- PG: Coby White
- SG: Alex Caruso
- SF: DeMar DeRozan
- PF: Patrick Williams
- C: Andre Drummond
Projected Pacers starting lineup
- PG: Tyrese Haliburton
- SG: Buddy Hield
- SF: Bruce Brown
- PF: Jalen Smith
- C: Myles Turner
Full Bulls vs. Pacers injury report
Vucevic will be joining Zach LaVine (foot), Torrey Craig (heel), and Lonzo Ball (knee) on the injury report, as all of these players are listed out tonight. After sitting out Tuesday's game against Houston, Bruce Brown (knee) is questionable to play. Everyone else on Indiana's roster is healthy and available for tonight's game.
Bulls' upcoming schedule
Chicago has the chance to continue their ascent up the standings with their next six games coming against Eastern Conference opponents. The Bulls have won three of their last four meetings against Philadelphia and will have a chance to close in on New York before taking on the struggling Hornets in back-to-back games.
- December 30 vs. Philadelphia 76ers
- January 2 @ Philadelphia 76ers
- January 3 @ New York Knicks
- January 5 vs. Charlotte Hornets
- January 8 @ Charlotte Hornets