Bulls Insider

Why Vučević's offensive struggles are at worst time

/ by K.C. Johnson
Presented By Nationwide Insurance Agent Jeff Vukovich
Bulls Insider

Dewayne Dedmon outplaying Nikola Vučević can’t happen any night if you’re viewing matters from a Chicago Bulls perspective.

And it certainly can’t happen on a night the Bulls played with seven players, including leading scorer DeMar DeRozan, in the league’s health and safety protocols.

Vučević knows this.

“It’s very disappointing for me because I’m trying to be there for my team and do what I have to do to help us win. And I’m not doing it right now," Vučević said via Zoom from Miami. “I’m coming up short for my teammates, and that’s the most frustrating part.

"There are games where I didn’t play as well, but we were winning, so it’s not that big a deal. But when we lose and you don’t play well, you feel like it’s even more your responsibility, your fault.”

Give Vučević credit for tackling the obvious as bluntly and transparently as he did following his 3-for-15 performance in the Bulls’ 118-92 loss to Dedmon and the Heat Saturday night.

Unfortunately, it was the most on-target he was throughout a troubling night in which Dedmon posted 20 points and 12 rebounds.

Dedmon is a backup center. Vučević is a two-time All-Star.

“I’ve never been through a slump like this,” Vučević said. “And I just have to work myself out of it. There’s no other way. Obviously, I’m not playing well right now. I’m not doing what I’m supposed to do. I’m not doing my job. I have to figure it out, plain and simple.”

 

Vučević is now shooting 40.4 percent from the field, 34 percent from 3-point range and 63.9 percent from the free-throw line. His career percentages are 49.4, 35.6 and 75.3 respectively, but he shot over 40 percent from 3-point range in his final 114 games with the Magic and 38.8 percent in his first 26 games with the Bulls last season.

Upon film review, Vučević said he likes the shots he’s getting.

“I’ve gotten a lot of shots in my spots. Even [Saturday], I got some post-ups and hook shots I’ve made a career of and nothing was falling for me,” he said. “I look at the games and my shots, I go through it. And honestly, I don’t really have an explanation for what’s going on with my shot.  It’s something that I was always very consistent with and really good throughout my whole career. I was always around 50 percent shooter. I just have to figure it out.”

Billy Donovan, ever the players’ coach, said he still has a lot of belief, trust and confidence in Vučević because Vučević “puts the work in.” In fact, Donovan said Vučević got up extra shots Saturday morning even though the Bulls didn’t hold a formal shootaround.

Vučević is still averaging a double-double. He is averaging 3.6 assists, on par with his recent seasons. He’s a solid screen-setter and team-first guy.

But the Bulls didn’t trade Wendell Carter Jr. and two first-round picks to land Vučević for him to miss point-blank shots like he has through his first 20 games this season. Too often, Vučević looks like he’s rushing shots. Twice against the Heat, he looked off balance as he rose for short shots he missed.

“I obviously have a lot of pride in myself,” Vučević said. “Obviously, talent is part of it. But I worked my way to the level that I am. Now that I’m going through a tough time, the only way I know is to work myself out of it.”

Vučević said teammates and coaches are supporting him. But what else can the Bulls do? It’s not like they’re going to bench Vučević. He does too much, and defenses have to respect him more than, say, Tony Bradley, or if the Bulls went full small ball.

They have to ride this out and hope Vučević at some point reaches his career percentages. In 20 games, he only has shot 50 percent or better six times.

With DeRozan out, Vučević operated closer to the basket against the Heat. He and Zach LaVine worked plenty of two-man game. Look for those approaches to continue until DeRozan returns.

 

At some point, Vucevic’s shots have to start falling. Don’t they? If not, those who opined the Bulls overpaid for DeRozan might’ve been focused on the wrong transaction.

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