Nikola Vucevic

Bulls 2023-24 season player profiles: Nikola Vučević

Durable center remains statistical constant but 3-point shooting must improve

NBC Universal, Inc.

Presented by Nationwide Insurance Agent Jeff Vukovich

NBC Sports Chicago is publishing a series of player profiles on the main rotational players for the Chicago Bulls, both reviewing their 2023-24 season and assessing what’s ahead.

Next up: Nikola Vučević

Previous profiles: DeMar DeRozan

Zach LaVine

Coby White

2023-24 statistics

76 games, 34.3 minutes per game. 18 points per game, 10.5 rebounds per game, 3.3 assists per game. 48.4% FG, 29.4% 3PT on 4.1 attempts per game, 54% True Shooting.

Contract status

Vučević has two years remaining on the three-year, $60 million deal he signed last offseason.

Season review

On the bright side, Vučević posted his highest scoring average of the three full seasons he played in Chicago; only his 21.5 points over 26 games after his trade from Orlando at the tail end of the 2020-21 season was higher. He also finished seventh in the NBA with 45 double-doubles. He is the model of statistical consistency, averaging a double-double for the eighth straight season and averaging over 3 assists in his ninth straight.

But Vučević shot just 29.4 percent from 3-point range, although he did hit crucial 3-pointers late in three victories. Still, that marked his lowest percentage since 2015-16. And that’s when he took just nine 3-pointers all season. Now, given his average attempts, he takes that many in just over two games.

For the second straight season, Vučević proved durable. After playing all 82 games for the first time in his career, he only missed six games to a groin injury. He also passed the 15,000 career point milestone, joining LeBron James and Kevin Love as the only active players with at least 15,000 points and 9,000 rebounds.

But after starting an entire season for a top-five defense in 2022-23, Vučević and the Bulls dropped all the way to 22nd. And while that doesn’t all fall on Vučević, his well-documented limitations drew a lion’s share of attention. While Vučević is a responsible team defender and elite defensive rebounder, his inability to switch onto smaller players and guard in space or provide elite rim protection places significant pressure on making sure point-of-attack defense and rotations and closeouts to shooters are on point across the board.

A look ahead

Management targeted Vučević as its first bold and significant transaction and has touted his strengths ever since. And his skill level and statistical consistency is undeniable.

But until the Bulls win at a high level, the price paid for him---particularly the two first-round picks---always will be questioned.

Management said everything is on the table this offseason. But with Andre Drummond set to hit unrestricted free agency and Vučević’s contract averaging $20 million over the next two seasons, it would be a significant surprise if he doesn’t return.

“We are aware it hasn’t worked out the way we wanted it to and we haven’t achieved the results we wanted,” Vučević said after the play-in loss to Miami. “That’s on management to decide and see what they want to do moving forward, what they think is best for this team to have more success. There’s a lot of stuff the front office needs to take care of this summer. They have to look at and see what worked and what didn’t and try to fix it and be better. Our job as players, we should’ve been better as a team. We didn’t, and now it’s on them to decide what they think is the issue.”

Three-point shooting isn’t the be-all, end-all to his game. But it’s legitimate to now question whether Vučević’s 2020-21 season is the outlier. That’s when he shot a career-high 40 percent on career-high volume of 6.3 3-pointers per game over 70 games for Orlando and the Bulls. He hasn’t topped 34.9 percent since and now is shooting 32.9 percent in his 257 games for the Bulls.

“Obviously, looking at my season as a whole the one thing that sticks out is my 3-point shooting percentage was not great,” Vučević said in April. “I’ll look at that and see the reason why. Did I overthink or whatever it was, see where to get better and improve.”

Click here to follow the Bulls Talk Podcast.

Contact Us