CHICAGO – When the Bulls made the decision to build their team with proven players instead of rolling the dice in the draft, Arturas Karnisovas saw performances like the one he got from his center on Monday night.
Nikola Vucevic, a two-time All-Star, was supposed to give versatile performances in which he’d make an impact with his scoring touch and rebounding prowess. A bout with COVID slowed that a little bit over the past few weeks, but the center showed his full potential in his best performance of the season.
Vucevic hit 12-of-19 from the field including all six of his three-point attempts to score a season-high 30 points along with 14 rebounds and five assists in the Bulls’ 133-119 victory over the Hornets at the United Center Monday night.
The center scored the Bulls’ first basket on their first possession of the game and he was off and rolling from there as they improved to 14-8 on the season.
It was a performance that the Bulls may have hoped for when it came to their center when they traded two first round picks for Vucevic at the trade deadline last March. It signaled a change in organizational philosophy under Karnisovas and general manager Marc Eversley as the team acquired proven talent in a move to win now.
Yet the Bulls struggled to make it all come together with a number of new players, including Vucevic, in the fold for the rest of that shortened season. With a new influx of players, the center once again had to find his place with the new-look team and has struggled at times.
In nine games early this season, Vucevic failed to shoot over 37 percent from the floor while his points per game dropped from 21.5 per game last season to just 14.5 early in the 2021-2022 campaign. Then came a bout with COVID that knocked him out two weeks, slowing down his chances to get more acclimated to the team.
Monday was a welcome change for Vucevic, who found his place in the Bulls’ offense with a November-high 19 shot attempts from the field. He hit on 63.2 percent of those shots – his highest of the season – in a performance that could signal a return to the All-Star caliber of the center.
“I just had to find my rhythm, just work through early struggles trying to figure out my spots and my positions and how to play with all my new teammates and a new role and everything,” said Vucevic. “I felt I was getting my rhythm then I got COVID and then I had to sit out, but obviously tonight was a good game for me.
“It felt great to make some shots, find my rhythm a little bit, so hopefully I continue it.”
So do many others with the Bulls as Vucevic finds his place in a new-look yet successful Bulls’ team.