Posted by: Kevin Jones
06/24/11 10:48 am EST

Our editor and chief Carey Smith was correct during the 2011 True Hoop mock draft, when he selected Nikola Vucevic, the 7-footer out of USC.  Rod Thorn and the 76ers grabbed the big man from Montenegro with 16th pick in last night’s Draft and potentially filled the enormous hole in the middle for the 7-6.

While I trotted alongside Vucevic (Voo-CHAY-vitch) as he made his way to the media room at the Prudential Center, it actually wasn’t his height that I first noticed but rather his weight.  At 260 pounds, the big man is literally just that; someone who potentially could be a brute force down low for the 76ers.  A source within USC told me he put on at least 50 lbs. since enrolling at the university.

Many scouting analysts were stunned when Vucevic entered the draft this year as a junior.  He had just come off of back-to-back Pac-10 rebounding titles – a feat no other player in the history of conference had ever achieved.  It seemed as if he was just harnessing his talents.  Experts had pegged the Trojan as an early second round pick at best.  But Vucevic impressed several teams because as Ed Stefanski put it “he’s a stone-cold center.”  His workouts catapulted him all the way into Lottery territory of some mock drafts.

“I think I learned how to play tough and aggressive in college,” said Vucevic in his post-draft press conference. “Coming to America helped me a lot.  I think I will be able to play the position in the NBA.”

I get that most Sixersfans will have a sour taste in their mouth about this pick for months. I did for the first 20 minutes too. I ripped most of the international guys in my pre-draft posts here on Philadunkia. Bloggers and fans are going to have it out for the 20-year-old Vucevic. They’ll will argue that he can’t jump, he’s not much of a shot blocker and of course he is a long term project. Then I started thinking harder. Go ahead and look back at the board. Who else could the Sixers have taken that made as much sense as this?

Now that moving Andre Iguodala is no longer imminent due to the lockout and ownership situation, playerslike Chris Singleton, Tobias Harris, Kenneth Faried and Jordan Hamilton would have been drafted on a ‘what-if’ type of scenario. ‘What-if’ AI9 stays a Sixer, then where do they fit in? Now Vucevic automatically fills the role of at least Tony Battie and this pick becomes motivation for Spencer Hawes to trains his ass off during the offseason. Vucevic added in about himself that he’s “better defensively than people give him credit for.”

Here is some proof on that last quote. His coming out party of this past season was against Texas, where not only did he pour in 24 points and nine boards, he dominated the number four overall pick Tristan Thompson, holding him to six points and four fouls. We now have a player I’m not shaking my head at when I see him attempt to guard Dwight Howard. At least Vuceviclooks the part. The former Trojan is still known more as an offensive player with some range on his jumper. Wouldn’t you rather have his jumper and mass over the frailness of Donatas Montiejunas, a 7-footer weighing in at 215 lbs? I sure would.

Evan Turner rode the pine last year much more than you or I expected. He jumped into a crowded situation and then all of the sudden the team started winning when Jodie Meeks took his spot in the starting lineup. Lots of people on draft night last year expected Turner to challenge John Wall and Blake Griffin for the rookie of the year award. Scouts thought he was NBA ready, but it took time.

You can almost say the exact opposite of what will become Vucevic’s circumstances once pro basketball resumes in Philadelphia. Unlike Turner, the 7-6 have no true center on the team outside of the ageless wonder Tony Battie. And NiVu(is it too early to nickname him?) enters the League with little to zero expectations from fans and most media members. It is kind of easy for me to predict that he’s going to become a rotation guy during 2011 and if his play is even average at best, he should have a major chance at seeing more minutes than Hawes come 2012.

Nikola knows he’s got a long climb ahead of him. He called being drafted “by far the greatest moment of his life.” Doug Collins is now here to nurture the big man. The Sixers made this pick as a long term solution for their gaping hole at the center position. Don’t be surprised though if you see Vucevic in a much larger role most other first round rookies. The Sixers were desperate for size. They got their wish with the 16th pick.

I grade this pick a C+. No, he’s not ideally who most of us wanted to end up. Yes, some of his question marks are nauseating on paper. But to make the second round of the playoffs in the NBA you need a 7-footer. You won’t believe me now but I think the 76ers front office got this one right.

Philadunkia Notes:


3 Responses to “BIG GAMBLE”

  1. Sloetry
    24. June 2011 at 12:32

    Great point about motivating Hawes. It also gives us trade options at centre eg. Hawes and AI for a starting centre with this kid now as back up. I’m still hoping ET is working on his jumper on the off season… that’s our greatest hope for next season.

  2. TheBengineer
    24. June 2011 at 14:48

    Big USC basketball fan posting here. Let me tell you a few things about vucevic.

    1) his nickname is “The V Factor” also known as “The Factor.” His teammates at usc called him this and so did the fans.

    Now for the good:
    2) “High basketball IQ” isn’t enough praise. We’re talking superduperduper high IQ. Which is really rare for a big man. I don’t know the 76ers roster too well, but Nikola “The Factor” Vucevic will be throwing alley-oops on the first day of practice. He’s one of the best big man passers I’ve ever seen at the college level.

    3)Offensive skills are off the charts. He’s more than just a pick-and-pop player. He has a long list of back to the basket shots including hooks, scoops, and fade aways. And he has 3pt range. He is honestly unguard-able 1 on 1 and will kill you passing out of the double team.

    4) Great off ball defender. Knows exactly where to show up on pick and rolls and loves to swat the shit out of guards shots in the paint.

    5) Hard worker. If you look into his story, his dad was a pro for 20 years in Europe and his mom was a baller too. His moves seem almost robotic as he is not a “natural” but he’s developed consistency through hard work. Also, you don’t need to worry about this guy getting arrested or suspended or anything.

    The bad
    5)Lacks a killer instinct (but isn’t soft) and is never going to force anything. This will actually be beneficial in the NBA but hurt our team sometimes in college. Also lacks vocal leadership skills.

    6)Slow feet and poor lateral quickness. In short, he has no chance to guard Dwight Howard or Amare Stoudemire 1 on 1. No chance. That said, he’ll be a great help defender on those guys.

    I see The Factor being a big-man version of Jason Terry. He’s going to come in off the bench and provide instant offense. Also, you’ll have to hide him a bit on defense.

    He’s my favorite USC player since Nick Young and you are going to love him. Jump on the bandwagon now.

  3. Booed at The Prude: Iman Shumpert, Jorts, and the 2011 NBA Draft – NBA
    27. June 2011 at 08:28

    […] Shumpert. The Sixers went with a 6’10” Vucevic, many to a discomfit of a friends over during PhilaDunkia. At that point, many — including many in a innumerable Knick-heavy fan sections — insincere […]

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