Vucevic doesn't want his game to be 3-point heavy

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Bulls center Nikola Vucevic reacts after scoring a 3-pointer against the Magic on Nov. 26, 2021, in Orlando, Fla.

    Bulls center Nikola Vucevic reacts after scoring a 3-pointer against the Magic on Nov. 26, 2021, in Orlando, Fla. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 10/2/2022 7:11 PM

It's easy to point at Nikola Vucevic's 31.4% shooting from 3-point range last season and call it a poor performance.

But keep in mind, shootings 3s is a relatively new addition to his game. During his first five years in the NBA, Vucevic attempted a combined total of 26 3-pointers.

 

So heading into his second full season with the Bulls, Vucevic wanted to remind everyone he made his first all-star team without being a high-volume 3-point shooter. There's much more to his game.

"The 3-pointer is not my main weapon," Vucevic said. "That's something I added over the years and it's made me a more complete player, but there are so many other things I do on the court that's better than that."

The veteran center said he might have shot too many 3s last season, but his 4.5 attempts per game were well below the 6.3 shots he took from long range during 2020-21, when he split time between the Bulls and Orlando.

Another obvious difference was his usage rate, which is basically a measurement of how often a player is involved in a particular possession.

Last year, Vucevic's usage rate was 24.5, his lowest since the 2013-14 season. That was an obvious issue the Bulls never quite figured out last year. Vucevic spent several years as the No. 1 option in Orlando. With the Bulls, he was third in the pecking order behind DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine.

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"Early on in the season, I think I was maybe a little too passive and kind of trying to play in a way that's within the team to help everybody get involved," Vucevic said. "I feel I was too much out on the perimeter and settling a little bit.

"I think once shots didn't start falling for me, I didn't get in a rhythm at the beginning and it took me a while to get out of it. Then I wanted to make it happen overnight and I started maybe forcing things a little bit."

It felt like Vucevic had most of his best games last season when LaVine was sidelined. The Bulls never quite figured out the three-star system. And it's tougher for a center who relies on teammates to pass him the ball.

"I think he'll figure out where and how he can continue to get better," coach Billy Donovan said. "I've always had a lot of confidence in Vuc because he's a total team guy, tries to play the right way."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

One obvious tactic, which plenty of NBA teams use, is to go inside early in games. Vucevic tended to shoot the 3-pointer better when he got some touches in the post during the first quarter. The Bulls seemed to understand this last year, but didn't stick with it.

"It was a lot of new, different things for me and it took me some time to adjust," Vucevic said. "I think that happens a lot of times with players when they switch teams."

Vucevic was averaging 24.5 points and shooting better than 40% from 3-point range when he was traded to the Bulls on Mar. 25, 2021. His scoring dropped to 17.6 points last year and it's hard to say what sort of scoring averages could maximize the effectiveness of Vucevic, DeRozan and LaVine, especially with the Bulls hoping for a more aggressive Patrick Williams.

Vucevic is in the final year of his contract and his future with the Bulls probably depends on how well he plays this season. But he also pointed out he's made enough money during his career to not stress about the next payday.

"I honestly don't make too big a deal out of (last year's performance)," Vucevic said. "It happens, people go through up and downs in their career. It's not how you fall, it's how you get back up.

"So for me, that happened, let's see how I can come back from that and play better this year. I think I had a really good summer and I'm excited for the season and I think it's going to be a good season for me."

Twitter: @McGrawDHSports

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