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2021-22 Chicago Bulls player evaluations: The curious case of Nikola Vucevic

Will Gottlieb Avatar
May 9, 2022

With a week after the season to digest, it’s a good time to start looking back at each player’s performance from the 2021-2022 Chicago Bulls season. I’ll release my evaluation of each individual player’s season over the course of the next few weeks. There are a ton of different ways to do this, but I’m evaluating each player on two key criteria:

  1. Performance against expectations based on previous seasons
  2. Performance against his expected role on the Bulls

Core stats: Nikola Vucevic

Box stats per game:

17.6 points, 11.0 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.0 steals, 1.0 block

Shooting splits:
  • 53.7 percent on 2- point field goals
  • 31.4 percent on 3-point field goals
  • 76.0 percent on free throws
  • 53.3 true shooting percentage
All-in-one advanced metrics:

These overall advanced stats are another piece of the puzzle to add context when evaluating players. The four in this table are considered to be some of the best. Zero is roughly average. Check out this article to learn more about each metric.

No matter how you slice it, the stats indicate Vucevic was extremely average this year.

But that’s only one piece of the puzzle.

Expectations against previous performance

Vucevic was the primary scapegoat for Bulls fans this season, largely because he underperformed relative to his standards. When a front office trades two future firsts and a top prospect for an All-Star, they expect to get that All-Star in return.

Scoring and efficiency

Playing alongside DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine, Vucevic’s raw production was primed to fall. His scoring number dropped 3.7 points from the average of his previous three seasons. That is to be expected given his role and usage dropping from first option in Orlando to third in Chicago.

The concerning part is the shooting numbers. While his two-point percentage remained roughly the same, his three-point percentage fell 5.9 percent from his previous three-season average.

As he admitted in his exit interview, Vucevic started “overthinking things” as a shooter when his shots weren’t falling. The more that happened, the worse it snowballed.

This played a big role in Vucevic’s struggles this year. Vucevic had a huge spike in possessions as a roll man this past season compared to his last year in Orlando, which could have contributed to his inability to find a rhythm offensively. His efficiency dropped indicating his preference to post up.

2020-2021 with Orlando Magic
2021-2022 with Chicago Bulls

It’s frustrating for fans, but a 13-percent increase in roll situations prevented Vucevic from finding any sort of rhythm offensively. Vucevic had to be the connector rather than the offensive hub, so he got the ball rolling towards the basket instead of on the block.

None of this is to say he was bad, it’s just that he wasn’t as productive or efficient as what the Bulls thought they were going to get out of him.

Passing and playmaking

Vucevic’s best asset to the Bulls offense was his passing and playmaking. With DeRozan and LaVine drawing so much attention, Vucevic needed to be the quarterback of secondary actions.

His assist percentage and assist-to-usage ratio were the lowest they’ve been since 2016-17. His turnover rate was the highest it’s been since 2017-18. He’s above average here but not great — ranking in the 85th, 70th and 72nd percentile respectively. These numbers are among centers to prevent high assist guards from pushing his numbers down.

Vucevic isn’t the most natural passer in these situations. He takes a beat to make the right read, which can often result in the defense being able to shift back into place.

When teams started aggressively trapping DeMar DeRozan, the Bulls needed an outlet who was both a threat to score and make the right reads in these situations. Vucevic was great in that role, even if it took him a while to adjust.


Vucevic isn’t a great defensive player, but he’s better than most fans think. He ranked in the 74th percentile in defensive EPM, 98th percentile of defensive rebounding percentage

Billy Donovan called him out earlier in the season for not being at the level of the screen, but he had a 1.3 steal rate ranks in the 70th percentile. He’s great at batting balls away while containing ball handlers in pick-and-roll.

Vucevic is a Rudy Gobert-type rim protector who really stands out blocking shots. He’s not a Bam Adebayo-type that allows you to switch everything. Vucevic is a limited defender, who needs help to be the best version of himself. Given all the injuries, the Bulls got as much out of him as they could have hoped.

Did the Bulls get what they needed?

Vucevic was the most divisive and difficult Bulls player to evaluate. While he did struggle, he was still pretty good individually and critical to the Bulls success.

In theory, Vucevic is a fantastic compliment to DeRozan and Zach LaVine. The Bulls needed him to be a connecting piece, rather than a scoring hub and that means finishing plays. How much does his perception change if he shoots 36 percent on threes rather than 31?

Ultimately, I land somewhere in the middle. Vucevic raised the floor of the Bulls season, providing stability and security in an injury-plagued season. He played the second-most games and minutes and provided a steady source of good looks throughout. Anyone who watched the playoffs saw the impact Vucevic had on the Bulls’ level of competition.

At the same time, the Bulls paid a premium for a guy who didn’t deliver by his own standards.

Vucevic is under contract for one more season at $22M, a reasonable price for his caliber of player. I’d always be looking for places to upgrade, but I’m not in a rush to dump Vucevic. Arturas Karnisovas and company have shown they are not afraid to make big moves. They’ve also expressed a desire for continuity. Because he is one of the few centers in the league who can post, pop and pass at a high level, it would surprise me if the Bulls find an upgrade at a reasonable price. Finding a three-point or rim-rolling specialist may be easier, but does that make them better?

Vucevic was the most difficult player to evaluate and will be even more difficult to figure out his future in Chicago.

Other evaluations

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