Entering the Chicago Bulls‘ Wednesday road bout with the Denver Nuggets, big man Nikola Vucevic had some serious backtracking to do. OK, so “serious” is probably taking things too far, but after calling Nuggets star Nikola Jokic a “stat-padder” a day earlier, one could be forgiven for wondering what his true feelings are.
On game day, however, the Bulls pivot left little doubt that he’s endorsing Jokic for NBA MVP honors this season.
“I think he deserves to get another one, the way he’s playing. I think you take him out of that team, it’s not even close to the same team,” Vucevic said, via NBC Sports Chicago. “The things that he does, you look at his stats, the efficiency he’s playing at, it’s very impressive.
“And it’s not like he’s putting up numbers and they’re not winning. They’re (25-0) when he has a triple-double. And he plays in a winning way. He makes the right play. He doesn’t force. He doesn’t try to do something just to do it. It’s all within the flow of the game. It’s winning basketball.”
Through 57 games, Jokic is averaging 24.4 points, 11.8 rebounds and 10.0 assists nightly.
Nikola Vucevic Laments Bulls Roller Coaster Campaign
Chicago has been something to behold in ’22-23, posting a better record against teams currently above .500 (12-24) than below (17-22) and struggling to score points (with a bottom-10 offensive rating of 112.4) despite being built around a trio of go-to types in Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan and Vucevic.
For his part, the latter hasn’t been a fan of the roller-coaster ride.
“The whole season hasn’t really been the way we thought it would be. And I think the most frustrating part is whenever we’d get to a place where we’re like, ‘Oh, we just one game out of .500. Maybe that’s it. Get a couple wins in a row. We’re playing better.’ And then it kind of goes backwards again,” Vucevic said.
“It’s frustrating. But you have to deal with it. We all have to be professional and stick the course and fight to the end. You never know what can happen. We have the talent. That gives us belief.”
The Bulls’ One Redeeming Quality Amid a Lost Season
Regardless of the fact that the Bulls have lost nine of their last 12 games and are in real danger of missing out on postseason play after a brief return last season, there’s at least one area where the team has been getting things done more often than not — the defensive side of the court.
Since January 1, Chicago has conceded just 110.9 points per 100 possessions; the No. 4 mark league-wide over that span and a number that falls just 0.6 points below the league-leading Milwaukee Bucks.
During that stretch, the Bulls have also held opponents to just 32.7% shooting from three (second-best on the NBA), a number aided by their effort to contest triples (at a rate of 20.2 per outing, another No. 2 mark). Of course, contesting shots has been a point of emphasis for Bulls coach Billy Donovan all season long.
“The guys have done a good job covering for each other, being really active with our hands…” Donovan said late last month, via NBC Sports Chicago. “Our defense is going to be predicated on how well we contest. And if we don’t contest the 3 well enough, we’re going to give up a very big number.”