by Adam Figman / @afigman
Nikola Vucevic still hasn’t been to Disney World. “Haven’t gotten time to,” he says. “[But] my girlfriend is coming down, and she told me I have to take the day, so I don’t have a choice anymore. Now I have to go.”
He’s been busy. The 7-foot big man moved to Orlando this summer after the massive, four-team Dwight Howard trade sent him down to the Magic, and after a decent rookie season in Philly—where he posted 5.5 ppg and 4.8 rpg in 15.9 minutes per—Vucevic’s numbers have improved across the board this year: He’s now dropping 9.9 ppg while pulling down 9.3 boards per outing. Mickey and friends can wait.
SLAM: Your stats are up across the board. What do you credit the success to?
Nikola Vucevic: Well, I get more playing time, so with that I play a little more relaxed, knowing I have some playing time. I’m able to show what I can do. As a rookie, I had limited playing time, and I had to do a lot in a shorter amount of time, so it was harder. And then I just think I improved. Last year I learned a lot about the NBA and got a feel for it. I had ups and downs—some games I played great and some games not as well. I think last year helped me mature a lot. I put a lot of work in in the gym, and my confidence is higher right now because I know I can do it. I’ve had some good games, so that helped my confidence. I try not to think about what I have to do—I just do it.
SLAM: Were you overthinking things at times last year?
NV: When I was a rookie, we had a lot of big guys at my position on [the 76ers], so we were all trying to get a lot of playing time. I just wanted to do well, prove to people I can play, and help my team win. At the time I was maybe thinking a little too much, because I didn’t want to make any mistakes, because I didn’t want to get taken out of the game. That’s when you start thinking, and you do stuff wrong. That’s when I understood you just have to go out there and just play, and mistakes are gonna happen but if you have one, on the next play, make up for it. That’s what I do now.
SLAM: Is it strange playing for a really young coach? Jacque Vaughn is 37, younger than some guys in the League.
NV: Actually, I really enjoy playing for Coach Vaughn. He’s very young, but I can tell he knows a lot about the game. He’s a great coach, he teaches well. And what I really like is he’s not gonna, like, yell at you and get on you really hard. He’s gonna stay calm. He’s a very calm guy but he has everybody’s respect. I think that that’s great. He doesn’t yell, he doesn’t go crazy when you do something wrong. If you play hard, you can miss every shot—as long as you play hard, he’s not gonna say anything. You just know you’ve got to play hard and you’re gonna play, and that’s all that matters.
SLAM: Who’s the toughest big man to go up against?
NV: I think the toughest one—there’s been a lot of good guys that I’ve had to deal with—but the one that I had the most trouble with so far was Al Jefferson. I kept going for his pump fakes. He’s a very good player—very crafty, very tough to match up against. Every night is a tough match-up for me, but I actually enjoy it. It makes me better. Sometimes I do well, some night they do better than me, but I just keep going and know it’ll make me better.
SLAM: Is there a defender that you specifically dislike being guarded by?
NV: It wasn’t easy to play against Dwight Howard. He’s really good on defense. And Kevin Garnett, he’s a great defensive player, not only 1-on-1 but for the team. When I was playing against him, you hear him talk non-stop to the other guys, [telling them] what to do and stuff like that. When you see that, it’s not easy to score on a guy like that, because he knows how to play defense.
SLAM: You get to experience some solid KG trash talk?
NV: Actually, he didn’t really talk a lot of trash to me. I know he does that a lot, but he didn’t talk a lot to me. I know last year in the Playoffs, when he was guarding Lavoy Allen, I would see he would talk to him non-stop. But yeah he didn’t say anything to me.
SLAM: The Magic’s best game so far this year was the victory over the Lakers in L.A. People assumed there was an increased motivation because of Dwight’s trade demands and all of the fallout from that.
NV: Playing the Lakers, they’re one of the best franchises in NBA history, so whenever you play them or any team like that you have extra motivation. But it was fun for me to play in L.A.—I had a lot of friends that came to the game. I just wanted to do well. That’s where I made my first serious basketball steps [Vucevic moved to from Montenegro to southern California when he was in high school—Ed.], so I just wanted to go out there and have a good game, and I did.
SLAM: Were your friends surprised at how well you guys played?
NV: Yeah, actually my best friend in L.A. is a huge Lakers fan. He was like, “No way you guys beat them, they’re the Lakers.” We went out there and played a great game—that was the best game of our season so far—and beat them. He was happy for me that we won but he was a little disappointed that his team lost. I was talking a little trash to him.
SLAM: He should’ve had to buy you to dinner for that.
NV: We didn’t bet, but we should’ve though. Next game, maybe.
SLAM: Who’s the funniest guy in the locker room?
NV: Umm, I think probably Hedo Turkoglu. He always jokes around and makes fun of people a little bit. He’s funny. Jameer Nelson, he’s funny. Glen Davis. We have a pretty good team chemistry, where we always joke around and do stuff together. It’s a pretty good job, to play for this team.
SLAM: How do you like living in Orlando?
NV: I like it a lot. It’s nice here. Nice weather. I’m used to that, because where I’m from it’s pretty warm. Nice city. There’s a lot of stuff to do. It’s not as crowded—it’s pretty spread out. There’s no traffic. And it’s really convenient—I live like 5 minutes from the arena. I’ve really enjoyed my time in Orlando so far.