When the trade of Dwight Howard was initially reported, it looked extremely lopsided in every team's favor except Orlando's. The media and Magic fans were shocked at how LA seemingly robbed Orlando blind, stealing away their franchise star for practically nothing. In return, a cohort of veterans and bad contracts were not at all what anyone expected.
However, there may be a diamond in the rough in Nikola Vucevic.
He certainly was not the center of the deal (no pun intended), but Vucevic has proven that the trade had some bright spots. He is currently averaging 11.8 points, 11.1 rebounds and 1.2 blocks for the Magic, all in 32.1 minutes of action.
Vucevic currently ranks third in rebounds per game, behind just Howard and Zach Randolph. He has pulled down 13 or more rebounds in 18 of his 42 games for the Magic, headlined by a monster 29-rebound game against the Miami Heat on New Year's Eve, which set the Magic record for rebounds in a game.
The seven-foot Montenegrin also has a hold of the sixth best rebounds per-48 minutes average, placing him with elite company. However, what is most remarkable is his progression through the season thus far. Below are Vucevic's statistical numbers by each month:
As you can see, Vucevic is gradually adjusting to the pace of being a starting center in the NBA. His numbers are rising exponentially across the board, which is a very good sign for an Orlando Magic team that desperately needs a player to build around. Their current frontcourt of Vucevic and Glen Davis is solid but more needs to be done to surround their new center with talent.
If Vucevic can improve his scoring, he can make the leap into the group of elite centers in the league.
His current numbers aren't too different from the likes of Joakim Noah and Tyson Chandler; both are All-Star reserves this season. He is ahead of both in double-doubles at this point, trailing just J.J Hickson and Howard with 22 in total.
It should be noted Hickson and Howard have 24 and 23 double-doubles respectively, so Vucevic is not all that far from leading the league in that category.
Not only are his individual numbers intriguing, but his overall effect on the team is, too. With Vucevic on the court, Orlando scores 104.9 per 100 possessions, as opposed to 102.2 when he heads to the bench.
Defensively, his presence is not as valued at 109.8 opponent-points per 100 possessions. Conversely, the Magic are better defensively with him off the court at 104.1 per 100 possessions. He does give the team a 1.9 percent increase in rebounding, yet Vucevic could improve on this end to further assist his team.
However, the future is very bright for Vucevic. His statistical averages are similar to those of the aforementioned East frontcourt All-Star reserves, which is quite a feat.
When you also consider Vucevic is just 22 years old, it places his recent progression in an entirely new perspective. If his improvement can continue, it is certainly possible Vucevic will be a household name in the near future.
All statistics are sourced from 82games.com and espn.com/nba and are accurate as of 1/25/13