The two-time All-Star center entered Friday shooting a career-high from three-point range with the Bulls, and has no plans of slowing down from outside now that he sees how much of a weapon it is for him.
Nikola Vucevic took the floor for his 22nd game as a Bull on Friday.
And while it’s definitely a small sample size, it’s fair to kid the big man about being a “stretch five.’’
That’s what happens when a 6-foot-11, 260-pound paint banger is all of a sudden shooting a career-high 44% from three-point range since coming over from Orlando at the deadline in March.
Not that Vucevic hadn’t already embraced the long-range shot as a weapon back in his Orlando days, with the big jump coming between the 2018-19 season to the 2019-20 campaign. That’s when his attempts per game went from 2.9 to 4.7.
The seed, however, was planted a few years before that.
“It was a process for me really,’’ Vucevic said. “I want to say four or five years ago, when Frank Vogel got hired by the Magic it’s something he talked to me about, shooting threes, and also that’s when the new front office came in in Orlando, they also talked to me about shooting more threes and adding that to my game was going to help me, help the team, and it’s kinda also where the NBA was going just everybody was just shooting threes.’’
The way Vucevic saw it, why be left out of the party?
Besides having great footwork in the post and a solid mid-range game, becoming a threat from outside has been a boost to his stock, and caught the eye of the rest of the league. That’s how he’s transformed into a two-time All-Star.
But according to Vucevic, he really noticed the importance of it in the first-round playoff matchup against Milwaukee last season.
The Magic actually surprised the heavily-favored Bucks in Game 1, beating them by 12 as Vucevic finished with 35 points, hitting five threes in the win. Milwaukee came back and swept the next four games, but the center finished the series shooting 18-for-44 (41%) from three, and averaged 28 points per game.
“The way they defend, I was able to get a lot of open looks and I was able to see how that helped myself, how it helped the team, how it was just another weapon I could add to my game,’’ Vucevic said. “And just really that series is when it kinda clicked in my mind to where I just started feeling much more comfortable there than before about shooting that.
“I think it’s also the way the NBA has been going and I had to adjust. I used to shoot a lot of mid-ranges, that’s not as much part of the way teams play, so I had to make an adjustment and evolve.’’
Considering the Bulls have him under contract the next two seasons, they may truly benefit from that evolution.
Billy Donovan has been a huge fan of what Daniel Theis has done since coming over from Boston at the deadline, and with the Celtics in town on Friday, the Bulls coach was loud and clear in reiterating it.
Considering Theis is an unrestricted free agent this offseason, Donovan should be throwing out some praise. Call it Recruiting 101.
“He’s a physical player,’’ Donovan said. “He’s rebounded the ball well. We’ve played big, so I know a lot of the times in Boston he was at the five and maybe more with us because of Vucevic he’s been a little bit more at the power forward spot, but just his physicality, his defense, his talk, has been really, really good.’’