Sixers No. 1 Pick Vucevic Could be Better Than You Think

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report

Okay, the Philadelphia 76erscame into what has been a lackluster

Sixers No. 1 pick Nikola Vucevic got better in each of his three years at USC. Photo courtesy of USC Sports Information Department.

2011 NBA Draft looking for a big man with the 16th pick and they found him in 6-foot-11-inch, 260-pound forward Nikola Vucevic out of Montenegro, who played his college ball at the University of Southern California.

Now I know some of you are going to view this young man as your typical European big man who can hit jump shots from the outside, but has an acute allergy to playing in the low post. The optimists among you have visions of Dirk Nowitsky dancing in your heads. I also suspect that the more cynical among you are thinking the Sixers have drafted another Spencer Hawes.

And yes, even more of you are disappointed that the Sixers didn’t make a bid to trade Andre Iguodala for a higher draft choice or a better player.

If you talk to Sixers general manager Ed Stefanski, he believes that he has the Sixers center for the future. Though he will likely not be in the Sixers starting five this season, he will be in the rotation of Sixers big men. While Vucevic is not an athletic above-the-rim type of player, the Sixers GM believes that the 20-year-old big man has the work ethic and the basketball IQ to be an NBA center.

“I think he’s a stone cold center,” Stefanski said. “I don’t think he’s going outside to cover fours (power forwards). He’s a stretch type of center because he can shoot the ball and around the basket, he works with his left and right hand. He’s your typical European player because he’s so fundamentally sound.”

I’m not going to say this Vucevic kid is going to be the next NBA superstar, but at the very least, I want to see what this kid can do before I go around ripping Sixers management for making a bad choice. Vucevic did have a pretty good career at Southern Cal, which means he’s played against guys like former Arizona star Derrick Williams, who was the second-overall pick of the Minnesota Timberwolves.

During his final with the Trojans, Vucevic averaged 17 points and 11 rebounds per game. In fact, he led the PAC-10 in rebounding in the final two years of his collegiate careeer. He had 22 double-doubles, ranking fifth in the nation in that category. As a three-point shooter, he shot a career-high 34 percent from behind-the arc. For his career, he was 30 percent from three-point range.

From his freshman year to his junior year, Vucevic improved his scoring and rebounding every year in his collegiate career. More importantly, he adapted to the more physical style of American basketball.

Vucevic said his baptism by fire to the more physical play of the low post in American basketball came during his freshman year in a game against Washington when he took a blow to head.

“When we played Washington, John Brockman was playing for them and they told me he was a big guy, but I didn’t actual it,” Vucevic said. “ He elbowed me in the face and that’s when I understood that this is different than it is in Europe, but it will help me.”

Vucevic said when he played back in his native Montenegro, the players he goes up against are now saying he’s too physical.

While Stefanski sees him as a better outside shooter than he is as a low post player, Vucevic himself said he thinks he has to do a better job as an outside shooter.

“One of the main things that I need to work on is my NBA three-point range,” Vucevic said during a conference call with the Philadelphia media shortly after his selection. “That’s something that can help me at the next level. That’s something that can give me an advantage with my size to extend the floor. I need to work on my body to become stronger and quicker.”

Oddly enough, Vucevic doesn’t see himself as the typical European player. He said his strong suit is his low-post game.

“I think that’s the best part of my game even though a lot of people think that I’m a big man who can shoot,” Vucevic said. “I can do a lot of different things in there. I can score with both hands. I can pass the pretty well. I’ve had to deal with a lot of double teams during the season and so I’ve learned how to play in the low post pretty well.”

And that’s going to be the big question for this man for Sixers fans. Can Vucevic handle going up guys like Kevin Garnett, Andrew Bynum, and that guy Nowitsky in Dallas. It’s one thing to average a double-double in the PAC-10, but in the NBA against more stronger, quicker and more athletic big men, it’s far tougher task.

On the surface of things, Sixers fans may look this at this pick with a few raised eyebrows, but it’s really too early to tell what Vucevic is going to do before he sees the live bullets of the NBA’s daily grind. I’ll give this particular pick somewhere between a C or C-plus with the grade subject to change depending upon his performance.

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