Nikola Vučević remembers what it’s like to face Daniel Theis as an opponent.
“He was actually always one of the toughest matchups I faced,” Vučević said after the Bulls used bully ball to defeat the Heat 110-102 Monday night in a critical game for play-in positioning. “Very good defender. Very smart. He doesn’t give you anything easy. He makes you work for everything. He’s hard to play against.”
That’s what 6-foot-8 and 245 pounds of near-constant motion and physicality can feel like, which is why Vučević is happy they’re on the same team now.
“He’s a great teammate,” Vučević said. “You see a lot of things that he did in Boston that people don’t necessarily see because it doesn’t show up in the stat sheet, or if you don’t watch games regularly you won’t see it. But he just does so much stuff for us on the defensive end, on the offensive end. He’s a very unselfish guy and a willing passer. He’s a skilled player as well.”
Perhaps at no point has that skill been more evident than when Theis corralled a high pass from Tomáš Satoranský with his right hand and hooked it through the basket in one motion as Gabe Vincent held Theis’ other hand while battling for post positioning.
“I thought it was a foul too. I asked the ref if he thinks I shoot with my left hand behind my back,” Theis cracked. “I just try to be tough down there.”
Mission accomplished. In a monster game, Theis finished with 23 points -- two off his career-high set with Boston -- 12 rebounds, five assists and two blocks as the Bulls enjoyed a 51-34 rebounding advantage. His physical pairing with Vučević, who finished with 24 points and 11 rebounds, is going to make it tough on management this offseason.
Theis, who has a salary-cap hold of $9.5 million, will be an unrestricted free agent.
“Our games fit and we can pay high-low a lot," Vučević said. “I can seal. He can seal. He’s very good on screen-and-rolls. He’s a good finisher around the rim. And then defensively, he also helps me. So I think he’s a great player.”
Theis appears to enjoy talking about himself about as much as he enjoys losing, which is to say never. Maybe Vučević can double as his agent this offseason.
Either way, management will have to thread the needle if they want to re-sign Theis while operating as a team with cap space. But that’s a story for another day.
For now, it’s obvious Theis fits stylistically with the new regime. He plays with physicality and defensive toughness while possessing shooting ability and a willingness to move the ball.
Even better, there’s this: “I care about the winning part. Stats don't matter for me.”
This approach can lead to what coach Billy Donovan called “momentum-changing plays.” Simply put, Theis’ physicality and energy are qualities that can be infectious.
“You can see the guys always pointing to him, appreciating that he’s in those kinds of positions to help,” Donovan said. “What I said from Day 1 is you can always feel his presence.’’
Just ask Vučević.