Nikola Vucevic had 19 points and 14 rebounds against the Clippers on Tuesday – and neither of those marks came within even seven of his season highs.
The Magic center regularly fills the box score, though few have noticed given Orlando’s poor record (an NBA-worst 48-129) since he came to the Magic in the Dwight Howard trade.
But Clippers coach Doc Rivers is sure paying attention.
“Vucevic is an All-Star and a terrific player,’’ raved Rivers, referring to Magic center Nikola Vucevic. “He’s probably the best player in the league that nobody knows. I don’t think you hear anybody talking about him, but when you look at his raw numbers they are superstar and all-star worthy, but nobody knows it.’’
Vucevic is averaging 18.8 points and 11.9 rebounds per game this season. Ninety-two percent of players who averaged those marks over a full season made the All-Star game. The only exception in the last 15 years – out of 23 cases – was Zach Randolph in 2011.
However, Vucevic’s numbers historically don’t matter as much as how he compares to Eastern Conference frontcourt players this year.
Last season, seven frontcourt players made the All-Star game in the East:
- LeBron James
- Carmelo Anthony
- Paul George
- Chris Bosh
- Roy Hibbert
- Paul Millsap
- Joakim Noah
George is obviously out after a season-ending injury, but Kevin Love is the logical pick to replace him in the starting lineup. Hibbert’s numbers are up, but I can’t see anyone rewarding him as the Pacers struggle and following his post-All-Star collapse last season. Millsap is again playing well, though one All-Star appearance doesn’t entrench him in the game. Noah hasn’t looked quite the same (perhaps for reason).
Let’s call that one to three openings with one more likely than three.
Vucevic – whose making good on his contract extension – has a pretty good shot at securing one, though he has competition.
Al Jefferson is excelling again after making the All-NBA third team despite missing the All-Star game last season. Pau Gasol combines production and name recognition. Jeff Green is making all-around contributions. Even Vucevic’s own teammate, Tobias Harris, could make a case.
There’s a long way until selection, and I’m not ready to follow Rivers’ leads and call Vucevic an All-Star just yet, but he’s put himself solidly in the conversation.