June 23, 2011: Vucevic with David Stern, left, at the NBA Draft
Did rookie Nikola Vucevic’s time playing overseas during the NBA lockout give him a jump on his NBA counterparts? If so, is he soon to be a lock for the starting center spot for the Philadelphia 76ers?
If he does start, can he then give the Sixers what they need?
What Philly needs is a dominant center who can score, rebound and swat shots. That’s a tall order, but Vucevic, 21, is a tall young man. He’s been listed from 6’10” to 7’0” by various sources.
In any case, his birthplace is listed as Morges, Switzerland, and after living in Belgium, his former European professional basketball-playing parents moved the family to Montenegro when Nikola was a teen.
Before signing with a pro team in Montenegro during the lockout, Vucevic played high school ball in Simi Valley, California. Then, after three years with the USC Trojans, he declared for the draft by foregoing his senior season.
Vucevic was subsequently hooked by the Sixers with the 16th pick. Thereafter from the low right block, he displayed a quick, accurate and smooth jump-hook in the preseason.
If he can consistently serve opposing centers with points in or near the paint, he’ll draw some double teams and be able to find open shooters and slashers.
Also, he’s already put his own three-point-shooting touch in the clutch style on display. Vucevic knocked down the three to close the half with milliseconds left against Washington in the Sixers' second preseason game.
Before training camp and preseason began, he was balling out playing for KK Buducnost in Liga ABA (Adriatic Basketball Association). Don't snicker.
As a member of the ULEB (Union of European Leagues of Basketball), the ABA is a credible upstart. Thanks to Slovenian businessmen, it’s been in existence since 2001. Probably the most recognizable NBA name to come from the ABA is center Jerome James, who played for Buducnost in 2000-2001.
Now, don't break down in laughter.
After nine years, the ULEB broke away from FIBA Europe and helped form the Euroleague, which is now considered the top championship tournament on the continent. The ULEB gradually dissolved FIBA’s rules and adopted a system similar to the NBA’s rules.
Most importantly for the Sixers, the trapezoidal free-throw lane used by FIBA isn’t used in the ABA. However, the NBA’s rectangular lane is used in the ABA.
The ULEB is a lane for the top professional basketball leagues of France, Italy, Spain, Greece, Belgium, the UK, Switzerland, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, Austria, Lithuania, Israel, Russia and the Czech Republic.
The ABA's arenas, though, are often pint-sized in comparison to NBA arenas. ABA arenas average a seating capacity of about 6,000—roughly the attendance at a Sixers preseason home game.
In any case, the Adriatic Sea is the geographic point attended to by the ABA’s nations and teams. ABA powerhouses include Maccabi Tel Aviv, KK Partizan (Belgrade) and KK Union Olimpija (Ljubljana).
Imagine the Sixers playing in some sort of North American league with teams from Canada and Mexico, while competing during the regular NBA season. Likewise, clubs in the ULEB play simultaneously in their nation’s domestic leagues.
Vucevic averaged 16 points and 11 rebounds through his ABA team's first six games during the NBA lockout. Furthermore, he shot 53 percent on field goals. Now, if he performs like that against the Sixers’ opponents, then the Atlantic Division title could be within Philly’s grasp.
For his efforts in pulling off a double-double—21 points and 20 rebounds—while his team edged BC Krka (Slovenia), he was named ABA Player of the Week. That was in early November.
Almost three weeks later, thanks to David Stern and Billy Hunter, the NBA lockout was announced to be tentatively over.
Now, all Vucevic has to do is rebound, block shots and score points in the paint to help the Sixers reach their height.
His true height and weight depend on the sneaker brand he’s wearing at the time of measurement. However, if he can help fill the center position’s shoes like the coaching staff expects, then he’ll help move Philly forward.
He’s not a threatening leaper, as the dunk blessing JaVale McGee gave him in the second preseason game attests to, but his heart appears to be immeasurable. Therefore, given Vucevic’s time in the ABA, he could have a jump on the competition coming off the bench.
Later this season, Vucevic could also become the starting center. He could, on the other hand, be confined to the deepest part of the bench. It’s still early.
Stay tuned, though. I’ll be letting you know what’s really going down this season.
Contact Lake Cruise: Lakecruise@att.net