Coming off a solid sophomore season, in which he was named the Pac-10's most improved player, Nikola Vucevic
has taken his game to the next level as a junior, increasing his scoring while rounding out his skill set and improving his frame substantially. Standing at least 6-10, with a superb wingspan, Vucevic was always going to attract attention to himself with his physical profile, especially once his body began to fill out.
On the offensive end, Vucevic has managed to increase his pace adjusted scoring and assists while simultaneously lowering his turnovers, making good use of the possessions he gets while taking on a larger scoring load. His shooting distribution has also had a slight adjustment with him taking a larger percentage of jump shots this season, something that's helped both his effectiveness as a collegiate player and his outlook as a draft prospect.
Looking at Vucevic's improving perimeter game, he's developed into a very reliable option out of pick-and-pop situations while becoming a more dangerous threat from three-point range as well. He's very confident with his jumper, which boasts a pretty high and quick release, showing no hesitation to put the ball up when he has an open look. While he's still just hitting 33.3% of his 2.4 three-point attempts per game, it's a noticeable improvement over his 22.2% on 1.2 attempts per game last season, and it's clearly an area where he's putting in the work and looks to have considerably more potential down the road. The fact that he can operate as a floor-spacer at 6-10 (or possibly 6-11) makes him quite a bit more intriguing considering the other things he brings to the table, which should be duly noted by scouts.
As for the rest of his scoring game, Vucevic does most of his damage operating in the low to mid-post, showing a solid finesse game centered around a right-handed hook shot with range to 10 feet. He has pretty good touch and decent footwork, but he does a great job staying active and calling for the ball while moving around the floor, being extremely aggressive in getting open and wanting the ball in his hands. He tends to do his best in the post when matched against undersized, overmatched opponents, however, showing trouble when matched against more NBA-caliber frontcourt players.
Off the ball, Vucevic looks a bit more confident going to the rim with power moves on cuts, showing improved strength and having no problem going up strong with the ball. He's still a below average athlete, but by virtue of his size and outstanding length he's capable of finishing with some strong dunks and has no problem drawing contact to get to the line when there's a defender in his way. He's still mostly a below the rim player and projects to have more problems in these areas should he play at the next level, but the toughness and improved strength he's showing are good signs, as is his 78% free-throw shooting, which is excellent for a big man.
When he's spending time in the high post or on the perimeter, Vucevic doesn't really show the first step or ball-handling skills to take his man off the dribble consistently, but he does a good job serving as a passing cog in the offense, making simple flow of the offense passes and not showing any selfishness despite his aggressiveness in always looking for the ball.
On the defensive end, Vucevic shows a solid fundamental base in the post, though he's prone to being both backed down and beaten laterally by stronger and quicker opponents. He does a good job compensating for this with his length, contesting shots and showing good timing with his shot block attempts, but he's still mostly overmatched against NBA caliber athletes. On the perimeter, he likewise shows decent fundamentals, but his lateral quickness is severely lacking here, being beat off the dribble often and being forced to foul from behind. This is the area of his game that could hold him back the most as an NBA prospect.
The one area he does really hold his own defensively is on the glass, showing a good nose for the ball and using his length and size well. That's a major plus when evaluating his pro prospects, as players in his mold tend to project as below average rebounders. His wingspan, fundamentals and effort-level clearly help him a great deal here.
Looking forward, Vucevic's continued development with his perimeter shot is crucial for his stock, and the steps he's taken with his improved shooting, strength, and toughness this season are all very helpful. Continuing to work on his pick-and-pop game, becoming a better defender, and maximizing his strength and athleticism should be among his priorities. At just 20 years old with another season in college and seeing how he's improved each of his three seasons so far, he could certainly play himself into draft discussions with continued improvement, and he already has a nice foundation with his rebounding and perimeter shooting.
Players with his combination of size, length and skills aren't very easy to come by, which is why he'll surely be getting an extended look whenever he decides to go pro. The fact that he's reportedly a very high character individual who comes from a strong basketball background will surely help his chances.