With Vucevic more involved, Bulls show signs of dangerous offense
Nikola Vucevic answered questions in multiple languages after scoring a season-high 30 points against Charlotte on Monday.
Even though he barely spoke English when he first arrived at USC in 2008, there's barely the trace of an accent when he speaks today.
Vucevic is about as measured and thoughtful a speaker as you'll find in the NBA. So most of the usual concerns about a player getting off to a slow start don't apply here. Vucevic is not going to lose confidence or complain about not getting the ball enough.
The more likely scenario played itself out Monday. Vucevic is taking the approach of working with Zach LaVine and former USC teammate DeMar DeRozan to figure out how to make the most of the Bulls' offensive weapons.
"Obviously I know I can make the shots," Vucevic said after the game. "I've made them my whole career and I've been averaging 20 a game for however long. For some reason it took me some time to find my rhythm and find my spots and get comfortable with the way we play.
"It was more, 'Where can I find my spots, where can I be effective within our offense playing with guys like DeMar and Zach?' Because I've never played with players like that. Also, I was the main guy in Orlando for years and the ball was always with me and I knew I was going to get my shots, regardless of how the game was going."
This sort of thing has been an issue since the early days of basketball. Big men generally need someone to get them the ball, while players like DeRozan, LaVine and others can create their owns shots and will find the ball in their hands more often.
Heading into Monday's game, Vucevic was shooting 23.6% from 3-point range. He went 6-for-6 against the Hornets, which isn't sustainable, obviously, but getting Vucevic the ball consistently, both inside and at the 3-point line, should have a positive effect for the Bulls offense. They scored a season-high 133 points Monday.
"He's really sacrificed a lot in terms of trying to make the group better," coach Billy Donovan said. "We've got to find a better way to help him. I thought we posted him up a little bit more, because he always passes out of the post when he doesn't feel like he's got something good.
"Then I thought our guys did a great job of finding him. We found him on some spray-out shots. I thought he was very much involved in the game, both inside and out. So I was just happy for him because he works hard and I know coming off COVID, it's been a little bit rough for him physically, just trying to get his wind, get his legs back under him."
Vucevic missed seven games due to the positive COVID test and this was his fourth game back. He said he never felt sick, but wasn't able to resume physical activity until getting through a 10-day quarantine and a heart test.
While off to a fast start, it's been interesting to watch opponents attack the Bulls in different ways. Miami used a heavy dose of zone defense on Saturday and Charlotte tried it at times.
If Vucevic can get back to his normal long-range shooting output, maybe the Bulls will continue to rise from their current 27th spot in the league in 3-pointers made per game.
"Just had to figure out my way a little bit and how to find my spots, inside, outside, and make sure I don't get in their way and things like that and also for them to get used to playing with a big man like me," Vucevic said. "We talk about it, we communicate it. I talk to those guys about it all the time, so it's just continue to work on it."
• Twitter: @McGrawDHSports