Nikola Vucevic of the Orlando Magic is having the best season of his career at the age of 28.
Vucevic is averaging career-highs in multiple categories including points, rebounds and assists per game with averages of 20.8 points per game, 12.0 rebounds per game and 3.8 assists per game. His player efficiency rating (PER), a statistic created to measure a player’s contributions with one number, is the highest it has ever been in his career at 25.4. His PER places him at ninth in the league, ahead of players such as Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and Paul George.
This 2018-19 season is the first time the Orlando Magic have reached the playoffs since 2012.
The Magic have been in a playoff drought for the past seven seasons. The last time they made the playoffs was when they had Dwight Howard back in the 2011-12 season.
Vucevic has been a key staple in ending the Magic’s playoff drought. He leads his team in three categories: points, rebounds and steals and is second on the team in assists only behind D.J. Augustin. Though he doesn’t have the flashy game or the big market/media exposure like some of his counterparts, his consistent play has given the Magic an opportunity to compete for a championship. The Magic will likely get bounced in the first round by the Raptors but this season has been a massive success because they were projected to be a lottery team once again at the start of the season.
The All-NBA first and second teams should be occupied by Nikola Jokic and Joel Embiid respectively leaving the third spot open. The other candidates competing for the third team are Nikola Vucevic, Rudy Gobert and Karl-Anthony Towns.
Rudy Gobert should likely receive the Defensive Player of the Year but the main knock against him is that he doesn’t create offensive opportunities for himself. The majority of his baskets are assisted by the likes of Donovan Mitchell and Ricky Rubio. Vucevic, on the other hand, creates his own offense. Gobert also might not be the best player on the Jazz while Vucevic is the undisputed best player on the Magic.
The main argument for Vuc over Towns is team success. The Orlando Magic have a better regular season record and are the 7th seed in the east while the Minnesota Timberwolves are out of the playoffs, sitting at 11th in the west. Towns averages more points and rebounds but Vuc is the better passer and averages more steals. Because the Wolves aren’t a playoff caliber team, it is much easier for Towns to put up higher stats than it is for Vucevic. Some of the higher numbers that Towns produces might be a product of stat padding or inflation due to empty statistics.
Nikola Vucevic should be considered for the All-NBA third team because he is averaging career-highs in multiple categories while leading his team to the playoffs for the first time in seven seasons. He might not be a household name as his counterparts are, but that shouldn’t discount his bid for one of the three prestigious All-NBA spots.