Bulls

Why Bulls’ Vučević trade provides snug fit, firm direction

Bulls

The Bulls took a seismic swing early on trade deadline day, acquiring Nikola Vučević and Al-Farouq Aminu from the Orlando Magic in exchange for Wendell Carter Jr., Otto Porter Jr. and two first-round picks.

By all appearances, that swing has a chance to be a home run.

Let’s laser in on Vučević, because he’s the biggest name in the deal and just might be the biggest name to move before the deadline strikes. The 30-year-old center is enjoying the best year of his 10-season NBA career, averaging 24.5 points and 11.8 rebounds while shooting 40.6 percent from 3-point range on high volume (6.5 attempts per game). Playing on a Magic team decimated by injury, he made his second All-Star appearance earlier in March -- incidentally, as a teammate of Zach LaVine’s on Team Durant.

Not only does Vučević provide some juice in the second-scorer department that the Bulls have lacked since trading for LaVine in June 2017, he’s also a tidy fit in terms of play style. A lethal pick-and-pop threat draining over 40 percent of his catch-and-shoot triples, Vučević should even further unlock LaVine by alleviating some half-court pressure and providing a dynamic two-man game partner. He'll space the floor from the center spot in a way head coach Billy Donovan has yearned for all season, as evidenced by Donovan's forays inserting Luke Kornet into the rotation and trying Lauri Markkanen at the five. 

 

Bulls fans got a taste of Vučević's prolificity when he dropped a career-high 43 points against them on Feb. 5: 

That said, Vučević is far from one-dimensional. Averaging the second-most post ups per game in the NBA this season behind only Joel Embiid, he has a knack for bruising mismatches and capably picking out open teammates -- Vučević’s 3.8 assists per game match a career-high, and his 10.7 percent assist rate on post ups ranks fifth among 13 players averaging more than five post ups per game.

Though not an eye-popping athlete or free-throw magnet, those aspects add compelling wrinkles to a Bulls’ offense that has shot the ball well all season but struggled with occasional stagnance and persistent turnovers. It must be noted: Vučević’s 8.6 percent turnover rate ranks in the 89th percentile for his position, per Cleaning the Glass. Donovan rejoices.

Questions will arise on the defensive end, especially if Lauri Markkanen sticks around past the deadline. Vučević isn’t a dynamic rim protector (averaging 0.6 blocks per game) and can be slow-footed in space. Expect the Bulls’ reliance on drop coverage defending the pick-and-roll to continue.

But Vučević is serviceable on that end, not foul-happy (averaging 1.8 personal fouls per game) and at least is an overwhelming presence on the glass. Vučević ranks fourth in the NBA in total (11.8) and defensive (9.8) rebounds per game. Cleaning the Glass pegs his 28.3 percent defensive rebounding rate as 94th percentile for his position.

There are, of course, costs to any trade of this magnitude. This marks the end of an at-times promising but ultimately underwhelming tenure for Carter, the Bulls’ seventh overall pick in the 2018 draft. Two lightly future first-round picks exiting the treasure chest stings. And the Bulls, all told, take on an additional $27.3 million in salary for next season, which diminishes their cap flexibility this offseason (though the remaining two years on Vučević’s contract -- for $24 million and $22 million, respectively -- provide value, and the partial guarantees on Thad Young and Tomáš Satoranský's contracts offer options).

But at the end of the day, they have a direction, and that direction is geared towards maximizing LaVine’s prime-aged years, an exciting proposition for fans. Vučević sets the Bulls up for a potential postseason spurt now, and Artūras Karnišovas has proven he’s not afraid to pull the trigger when opportunity presents itself to continue evolving this roster in the future.

 

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