Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Nikola Vucevic: $53 Million Dollars Richer

News broke today that the Orlando Magic re-signed C Nikola Vucevic to a 4 year/$53 million dollar contract extension. I've detailed my love for Vucevic in this space so it's no surprise that I love this deal. He's the first of Orlando's group of young guys to get an extension, so he's clearly someone Orlando feels is a building block moving forward and I agree.

He turns 24 on Friday. Let's take a look at the number of guys that have had multiple seasons of at least 13 PPG/11 RPG on 50% FG shooting before age 24.

  • Kareem Abdul Jabbar
  • Charles Barkley
  • Walt Bellamy
  • Elton Brand
  • Dwight Howard
  • Al Jefferson
  • Bob McAdoo
  • Shaquille O'Neal
  • Hakeem Olajuwon
  • Nikola Vucevic
  • Buck Williams
Not terrible company. Only five guys in the league last season put up at least 14/11 a night: Love, Dwight, Demarcus, Aldridge and Vuc. And he did it on 12 field goal attempts a game. With Afflalo, Davis and Nelson gone from last seasons squad, I could see that number creep towards 15 or 16, and that scoring average make its way towards 17 or 18 PPG. Vuc will also find himself paired with Channing Frye, a true stretch 4, this season. I think this helps his game in a couple of ways. One, with Frye drawing another big away from the basket, Vuc will have more freedom to work around the rim where he shot 56% last season. He'll also get to work in the paint more, due to the fact that he'll have another legit shooter on the floor. Two, with Frye standing  18+ feet away from the basket, Vuc will have an opportunity to grab a couple of more boards. I could easily see a 18/12 on 53% FG type of season for him. And you gladly pay $54 mill if your 24 year old center gives you that every night.

The deal averages out to $13.5 million a year. Vuc's deal doesn't kick in until next season, but let's take a look at what some of the other centers in the league make this season:

Omer Asik: $14.8 million
Roy Hibbert: $14.8 million
Tyson Chandler: $14.5 million
Al Jefferson: $13.5 million
Derrick Favors : $12.9 million
Andrew Bogut: $12.9 million
Kevin Garnett: $12 million
Deandre Jordan: $11.4 million
Javale McGee: $11.2 million
Larry Sanders: $11 million
Tiago Splitter: $9.1 million
Kendrick Perkins $9.1 million

To be fair, a couple of these guys are in the last years of a deal. But at the same time, I wouldn't pay Kendrick Perkins $9 million dollars over the next nine seasons, damn one season. Vuc is a young center who's trajectory is headed up. With the news of the salary cap rising, this deal has a chance at being a steal in a couple of years. Especially when you see what guys like Jordan, Hibbert and Jefferson ask for next summer in free agency. Those are guys not binded by restricted free agency like Vuc was, and I expect them to shoot for the moon in their next contracts.

As much as I enjoy Vuc, he's not without his faults. He has a couple of things to work on to really make that contract look like a steal. The first, and most critical, is his protection of the rim. Simply put, he hasn't been very good at it. Opponents hit on over 56% of their shots at the rim against him, a brutal number in line with other defensive stalwarts like Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson, Spencer Hawes and Nikola Pekovic. By comparison, the best guys in the league over a full season, Hibbert, Robin Lopez, Taj Gibson and Serge Ibaka, were all under 45%. Vuc is neither the behemoths that Hibbert/Lopez or the athletes that Gibson/Ibaka are, so I wouldn't expect him to be in their territory, but him getting that number under 50% would be a big step in the right direction. Teammate Kyle O'Quin allowed about 47% conversion so hopefully he can help rub off on Vuc. That, combined with his third year in Jacque Vaughn's system, and better perimeter defenders (Payton, Oladipo, Gordon all figure to be defensive improvements over their predecessors) should help Vuc take the next step to improving his defense.

The second thing I'd like to see Vuc improve on, is his free throw trips. He got to the line just 2.4 times per game last season, progress from 1.6 per game the year prior, but he can do better. Those bigs that I mentioned earlier that averaged 14/11 along with Vuc? Love gets to the line 8 times a game. Howard? 9 times. Cousins? 8. Aldridge? 5. At the very least, you'd like to see Vuc get to the line five times a game. I think his game shifting towards the post along with an increase of touches, will help him get there. His free throw percentage has jumped from 53% to 68% to 77% in his three years in the NBA and I wouldn't be surprised to see it hit 80% this year. If he does that, 20 PPG isn't out of the question and a good deal would look that much better.

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