San Antonio Spurs: Pros and cons of trading for Nikola Vucevic
By Ethan Farina
The San Antonio Spurs are reportedly interested in the Magic big man
Ah spring, the most magical time of the year. A season of new life, growth, and NBA trade rumors. No team is totally cut out from the excitement, not even our very own San Antonio Spurs.
Spurs fans had already been kicking the tires on trades we wanted to see. Everyone from John Collins to Bradley Beal had been mentioned as potential trade targets. But earlier this week The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor threw a tank of gas on the fire when he slipped a small nugget into his power rankings.
According to O’Connor, the Spurs have shown “significant interest” in the Orlando Magic’s Nikola Vucevic. Not alone in the hunt to acquire the 30-year-old big man, San Antonio is joined by Boston, Charlotte, and Miami as teams O’Connor mentioned as having expressed interest in the star center.
As always, Spurs nation had a calm, very level-headed response to the report. Just kidding, everyone pretty much freaked out. The hot takes were flying as some expressed belief that Vucevic would take the Spurs to the top of the Western Conference while others said that trading for another veteran would mean the ultimate downfall of the Spurs organization as we know it.
In reality, the potential impacts of trading for Vuceivc are somewhere in the middle. He wouldn’t make the Spurs the best team in the West but his versatile offensive game could certainly help San Antonio secure a spot in the playoffs. Here are the pros and cons of trading for the Orlando Magic All-Star.
Next: Why the Spurs should trade for Nikola Vucevic
Mar 7, 2021; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Orlando Magic guard Nikola Vucevic (9) competes during the NBA All-Star Skills Challenge at State Farm Arena. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
Nikola Vucevic would unlock a new element of the San Antonio Spurs offense
Remember what happened last season when LaMarcus Aldridge started shooting three’s? Inserting Vucevic into the San Antonio Spurs lineup would have a similar impact but similar in the way that a breeze and a tornado are both gusts of wind.
While Aldridge started dabbling in three-point shooting last year, Vucevic had already fully embraced it as a core part of his game over the past few seasons. Vucevic took just 26 three-point attempts across his five seasons in the league. This year he ranks 19th in the league in total three-point attempts with 233, a figure which puts him ahead of noted shooters such as Patty Mills and Paul George.
He’s been incredibly accurate from behind the arc as well. He’s making 41.2 percent of his three-point attempts this season, on par with players like Stephen Curry and Kyrie Irving. That impressive accuracy and high volume have combined to make him the leading scorer from the top of the arc, according to ESPN’s Kirk Goldsberry.
With an elite shooter like that added to the mix, the driving lanes that Spurs slashers like Keldon Johnson and DeMar DeRozan depend on for points suddenly get larger as opponents have to devote more attention to a big man floating behind the arc. Those two are already deadly when attacking the rim, can you imagine what they’d be able to do with even just a little more room to work in?
Way more than just a shooter, Vucevic still has all of the skills in pick and roll situations and in the low post that helped him excel earlier in his career. But now, instead of counting on him rolling to the rim, opponents have to contend with him popping out for a three as well. This combo threat has helped him be one of the best pick and roll partners in the league.
Using Vucevic in pick and roll has been a key part of the Orlando offense this season. He averages 5.6 pick and roll possessions per game, just a hair behind LaMarcus Aldridge for the highest in the NBA. But where Aldridge averages just 1.03 points per possession, Vucevic averages 1.17.
Admittedly, Vucevic isn’t a particularly imposing defender – he’s tallied just 23 blocks all season – but his offense more than makes up for it. If they traded for him, Vucevic would instantly elevate the Spurs’ offense to new heights by opening up worlds of space for their guards to drive through while also providing elite low post and pick and roll play.
When you think about big men who could unlock the next level of the Spurs offense it’s hard to think of a better-suited player than Vuc. His terrifying blend of inside and perimeter scoring seems tailor-made to bring out the best in the other players the Spurs have on their roster. But only if the Magic don’t demand them all in exchange.
Next: Cons of trading for Vucevic
Feb 23, 2021; Orlando, Florida, USA; Orlando Magic center Nikola Vucevic (9) shoots over Detroit Pistons guard Saben Lee (38) during the second half at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports
Trading for Nikola Vucevic might gut the San Antonio Spurs
There aren’t many negatives in trading for Vucevic. Yes, he’s a bit older than the Spurs core group of guys but at just 30 years old he’s still in the thick of his prime and has a game that should age well. His contract isn’t enormous either, just $46 million over the next two years. No, the biggest sticking point in any deal for Vuc is the asking price.
They haven’t named an exact number of picks and players but Keith Smith reported that the Magic would want a monster package in exchange for Vucevic. Sam Amico took it a step further in a recent recap of Western Conference trade rumors where he outlined what he thought Orlando would demand from San Antonio.
“The Magic are expected to fetch a massive haul for Vucevic should they accept a trade. Perhaps Jakob Poeltl, Dejounte Murray and a handful of picks would entice Orlando.”
I’m as high on the idea of the San Antonio Spurs trading for Vucevic as anyone. I think he’d do wonders for their offense and could help them climb to be one of the top-five teams in the West. But if that’s Orlando’s asking price I’m walking away if I’m Spurs GM, Brian Wright.
There aren’t many players on the Spurs that I think should be considered untouchable at this point but Dejounte Murray is one of them. He’s one of the most dynamic two-way guards in the league today, he’s one of the leaders of this team, and he’s only going to get better as he gets closer to his prime.
Keldon Johnson is similarly off the table and you can lump Devin Vassell into that group as well. I think if the Magic asked for Derrick White the Spurs would have to at least consider it. This season has shown that they can get by with Dejounte and DeMar as their primary playmakers and if it means that San Antonio can hold onto picks and other young players maybe they’d listen.
In any case, the Spurs have the right mix of veteran players on sizeable deals, appealing young players, and first-round picks to get a deal done if they really wanted to. The only question is whether they’d be willing to go as high as Orlando would like.
Given their track record of internal development and preference for homegrown talent, I don’t see San Antonio Spurs coming to an agreement with the Magic for Nikola Vucevic. He’d be a great addition to their team but I fear the asking price is just far too high for the Spurs right now. They’re far more likely to stick to what they know – building through player development and the draft.