That’s how much playing time Nikola Vucevic got with the 76ers in last year’s playoffs. The Sixers won one playoff series (against the Bulls) and took the next series to seven games before losing to the Celtics.
The Sixers played in 13 games in the postseason and Vucevic, their first-round pick (16th overall), played three minutes.
Three minutes. One point.
Then came the offseason and the trade. The Sixers shipped Vucevic off to Orlando as a part of a four-team trade that brought Andrew Bynum to Philadelphia. The trade also sent Andre Iguodala to Denver but Vucevic might have been an after-thought for some people.
And now he wants to prove them wrong. Everyone. And on Friday morning, before playing in the Rising Stars Challenge at the Toyota Center, he said he’s still using the trade as added motivation.
“Maybe a little bit. Maybe I want to show people what I can do because I think after I didn’t really play in the playoffs, people were doubting if I can play at this level,” Vucevic said. “And I wanted to prove people wrong, that I can play at this level, I just need a chance to play at this level and a coach that gives me the opportunity and believes in me and I got that in Orlando.”
With the added playing time, Vucevic has thrived. He has started all 52 games for the Magic this season, averaging a double-double, 12.4 points and 11.5 rebounds. Really, he said, playing more has been the biggest difference between this year and last.
“I think I’m a lot better, especially the confidence-wise,” he said. “The confidence is at a higher level than it was last year and so it’s a lot easier when you get minutes and you get to play. The best way to improve is through games and through your mistakes. I think I’ve gotten a lot better. I put a lot of work in over the summer.”
While Vucevic said he was eager to prove people wrong, he quickly made sure to mention that it wasn’t personal. He understood that the Sixers made a decision they thought would improve their game – Andrew Bynum, by the way, has played in exactly zero basketball games for the Sixers this season because of injury. It’s business, Vucevic said. No hard feelings.
“(The 76ers) were very great to me,” Vucevic said. “They really helped me a lot last year. I don’t have anything against them. But they made a decision that they felt was best for them. So it wasn’t just show them, it was show everybody that I can play at this level.”
And so far, he has. Vucevic, 22, has been a much improved player. But he still won’t get to play in the playoffs. The Magic have a 15-37 record and are sitting in the second-to-last spot in the Eastern Conference. But Vucevic said he intends to get better. He wants to improve defensively and become more consistent. And he doesn’t want to get traded again.
“I’m very happy in Orlando,” he said. “I like the coaching staff, the GM, everybody in the front office. It’s a really fun place to be at and hopefully I’ll be there a long time.”
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