Don’t look now, but Bulls big man Nikola Vucevic could be waking up

There was more than just a sign of life from the struggling big man.

It looked more like a reawakening for Nikola Vucevic.

At least the Bulls hope that’s the case.

Ten days ago on South Beach, it could have been rock bottom for the 31-year-old center. Miami not only blew the Bulls out, but Vucevic was hardly recognizable as a former All-Star. He went 3-for-15 from the field, 1-for-4 from three, and was visibly frustrated after the game, searching for answers.

He found them, and did so the only way he knew how to: Work.

That’s always been the recipe for the 6-foot-10 Vucevic.

“That’s the only way,” Vucevic said last week, when discussing his mindset to work his way out of the struggles. “I got here by working my way up to it. Talent is part of it, but I worked my way to the level that I am, and now that I’m going through a tough time the only way I know is to work myself out of it.”

After Monday’s 133-118 win over Houston, that work seemed to be paying off.

“We established Vooch on the inside and he played from there in that first quarter and established himself,” coach Billy Donovan said. “He shot it, he posted, he kind of got everything involved. And Vooch is just going to keep getting better.

“First of all, he’s too good of a player. He works incredibly hard, and I think he’s finding his way with a new team. And I think probably for an adjustment period for him it’s a little bit different because he’s playing pick-and-roll with DeMar [DeRozan], he’s playing pick-and-roll with Coby [White], he’s playing pick-and-roll with Zach [LaVine], he’s playing pick-and-roll with Lonzo [Ball] … there’s a lot of guys that he has to get on the same page with, and I think our guys are figuring out how to utilize him as well.”

Vucevic finished with 18 points on 8-for-18 from the field, but was 5-for-7 in the paint. A night earlier against the Lakers, he went 8-for-17 from the field, including 3-for-6 from three, and finished with 19 points and 13 rebounds.

His best two-game stretch since Charlotte and then New York to start the month.

“It’s a long year,” Ball said of Vucevic. “Vooch is a vet, he’s an All-Star. We were never worried about him. Obviously this is a new situation for all of us, including him, so he was just trying to find his rhythm and it’s coming back to him.”

And while 16-for-35 (46%) in the last two games is still below his career average of 49%, it’s progress. Coming out of the Heat game, Vucevic was only hitting 40.4% from the field this season.

That’s also when the NBA stepped in and shut the Bulls down because of having 10 players in the coronavirus health and safety protocol.

Two games were postponed and team activity was bumped down to only one player working with one coach at a time.

According to Vucevic, that gave him five days to get back into the lab.

“I was just trying to work on my game, so I did individual work – lifting and conditioning – a lot of that just to get my heart rate up. Shot a lot,” Vucevic said. “After that first wind [against the Lakers on Sunday] I felt pretty good. I felt like we really didn’t have a break.”

The best news throughout all of Vucevic’s struggles, however? As inconsistent as he’s been, the Bulls were still 19-10 entering Tuesday, sitting in second place in the Eastern Conference.

If the last two games were his wake-up, the best is yet to come.

Read More

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *