Report: Orlando’s Nikola Vucevic Agrees To Four-Year, $54 Million Extension

The Orlando Magic have finally locked-down at least one member of its promising young core long-term. According to multiple reports, the team has agreed with center Nikola Vucevic on a four-year, $54 million contract extension.

Yahoo Sports’ Marc Spears was first to report the news:

The Orlando Magic have agreed to terms on a four-year, $54 million contract extension with center Nikola Vucevic, a league source told Yahoo Sports…

Vucevic, who turns 24 on Friday, will make $2.9 million in the final year of his contract this season before making an average of $13.3 million per season in his new deal.

$54 million surely seems expensive to those of you that have only heard of Vucevic in passing. But Orlando’s relative anonymity over the past two seasons hardly means that their impressive big man isn’t worth such a payday. Vucevic clearly ranks among the league’s best young centers, and will be compensated as such going forward.

It’s also pertinent to note that a future $13.3 million salary won’t be what it is under today’s salary cap. The cap will jump to $66.3 million in 2015-2016 at the very least, and is poised to break the $80 million mark one year later as the NBA’s massive new TV deal kicks-in. Even if the league smooths out that drastic single season over multiple years, Vuc’s contract will be far cheaper than it seems today. And considering the very real possibility that a team itching to spend would have made him a max-level offer next summer assuming improvement this season, this deal only makes more sense for Orlando.

Offensively, Vucevic is already one of the league’s most effective and rare centers. In a game packed with quality big men whose prime offensive function is to set ball-screens and roll hard to the basket, the Switzerland native is a throwback. He’s a behemoth with nimble touch over both shoulders in the post, and shot a very impressive 46.2 percent on catch-and-shoot jumpers last season. A reliance on jump-shots keeps his efficiency relatively low for a big man, but that’s mostly splitting hairs. Legitimate post threats that double as pick-and-pop or weak-side safety valves are few and far between, and deserving of such a contract.

It’s the other end that could limit Vucevic going forward. All too often is rebounding considered an accurate portrayal of a big man’s defensive impact. Vucevic is indeed an extremely gifted rebounder – almost surely among the NBA’s top-10 players in that department. But today’s league asks so much more of its interior beasts than simply cleaning the glass, and that’s where Vucevic struggles.

He’s not a rim-protector despite that massive frame and 7-5 wingspan. Vucevic averaged just .8 blocks per game in 2013-2014, and fared third-worst in opponent field goal percentage at the rim (56.6 percent) among players that allowed seven such shots a night – just behind similarly ground-bound bigs Kevin Love and Spencer Hawes.

Maybe just as problematic is his play in the pick-and-roll on that end. Vucevic is tasked with dropping on ball-screens a la Roy Hibbert, but hasn’t developed the sense of timing and space necessary to thrive in such a role. All too often does he fall too far back and allow the ballhandler to touch the paint or fail to rotate quickly enough to contest a shot from the roller. That lack of sudden short area quickness will continue to plague him in pick-and-roll scenarios unless he gets more comfortable with concepts of the Magic’s scheme.

But that comfort could still come, of course – Vucevic only turns 24 years-old tomorrow. And it’s not like he’s an impossibly doomed defender, either. Steve Clifford and the Charlotte Hornets built an elite defense last season around a player with similar physical deficiencies in Al Jefferson, and Orlando possesses the same rangy athletes who project as plus defenders that Charlotte already has. Vucevic won’t lead a defense to greatness, but he also shouldn’t keep one from reaching it.

This seems a good deal for both sides, and is especially team friendly considering the inevitable salary cap spike. Vucevic has been considered a crucial building-block for the Magic since arriving as part of the Dwight Howard trade two seasons ago, and his consistently solid play in the interim and this extension ensures he will be going forward, too.

*Statistical support for this post provided by nba.com/stats.

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