Magic’s Vucevic: “We Want to Show That We’ve Improved”
By John Denton - Orlando Magic // August 2, 2015
ORLANDO, FLORIDA – With a new coach in Scott Skiles, a new-look roster with the additions of C.J. Watson, Jason Smith and rookie Mario Hezonja and a maturing core still in place, Nikola Vucevic knows that the time is right for the Orlando Magic to make major strides.
Vucevic said as much on Thursday from Johannesburg, South Africa, where he is preparing to play in the first-ever NBA exhibition game in Africa on Saturday. (The game will be televised by ESPN at 9 a.m. ET on Saturday).
For the time being, Vucevic is excited about playing alongside of Chris Paul and Pau and Marc Gasol and picking up pointers from NBA Africa ambassador Hakeem Olajuwon. But also on Vucevic’s mind is the task ahead for a Magic team looking to play many more meaningful games in the season ahead.
“Definitely, it’s a very important year for us. We’ve had a couple of tough seasons where we haven’t been very successful as a team and it’s time for us to turn it around and have a better year,’’ said Vucevic, Orlando’s leading scorer and rebounder last season. “I think the guys have more experience from the last couple of years and they are hungry and really want to show that we’re a better team that has improved.“I believe we can do that,’’ Vucevic continued. “We have the necessary players to do that and we have the talent, as well. With the new coach, guys will want to show themselves even more and that will help us. So I’m expecting a better season from us and it’s time for us to turn it around because we can’t keep having 20-win seasons.’’
Vucevic, who will be heading into his fifth NBA season, anchors a dynamic young core of talent that also includes Victor Oladipo, Tobias Harris, Aaron Gordon, Elfrid Payton and Evan Fournier. The Magic made bold moves to keep that core intact by signing the 7-foot Vucevic to a contract extension last October and they did the same with Harris in early July.
Vucevic has been a model of consistency in Orlando, raising his scoring average each season while compiling 127 double-doubles the past three seasons. He and Memphis power forward Zach Randolph are the only two players in the NBA to average at least 10 rebounds a game over the past three seasons.
Still, Vucevic feels there are several areas of his game that he can improve. That’s why he got back to work not long after the Magic’s season ended in mid-April. Also, he jumped at the chance to play in the first-ever NBA game in Africa because he knew it would allow him to scrimmage against the likes of Pau and Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka, Kenneth Faried, Boris Diaw and Festus Ezeli – something sure to sharpen his skills.