Sixers draft center Vucevic with 16th overall pick


Thursday, June 23, 2011
Posted: 9:10 p.m.Updated: June 24, 12:30 a.m.
By John R. Finger

When NBA draft day rolls around, its the trade talk where all the intrigue lies. To some degree, every team is attempting to improve and reshape its roster. Futures are bright and hope springs eternal.

Of course not everything works out as planned.

At the very least, however, the 76ers filled a need with the No. 16 pick in Thursday nights draft. No, they were not able to trade Andre Iguodala, which had been rumored. They also were not able to make a deal to move up into the lottery of the draft, either.

But when the dust settled on a rather hectic first round where Sixers general manager Ed Stefanski admitted that he had no idea which player would be selected, the team got the man they targeted all along.

Funny how that works sometimes.

Unable to make a trade or move up, the Sixers had their coveted player come to them when they selected center Nikola Vucevic with the No. 16 pick. Born in Switzerland and raised in Belgium where his dad played pro ball, Vucevic came out of USC after three seasons at the school. Listed at 6-foot-11 and 260 pounds, Vucevic is the big-body defender the Sixers coveted.

For USC, Vucevic averaged 17.1 points and 10.3 rebounds per game and is still just 20 years old.

Meanwhile, with their second-round pick, the Sixers stayed big and local by grabbing Pennsbury High and Temple alum, Lavoy Allen.

Allen worked out twice for the Sixers over the past couple of weeks after finishing his four years at Temple as the schools all-time leading rebounder.

The Sixers went into the draft looking to get some bigs and they did big time.

This was a brutal draft, Stefanski said. Ive never been through a draft where I didnt know who was going at what spots, and there were surprises all night long. In the draft room, we were shocked where different players went, and again, we were just seeing if Vucevic could fall to us. There were times where we were looking about moving up to secure him, but we were never able to make that deal, so you got lucky, you sit back, and it happens to work out for us. We thought a couple times, he may be off the board.

Vucevic is a player who could compete for time in the Sixers regular rotation, Stefanski says. He can shoot the ball from the outside and has a very high basketball IQ, according to the GM.

He has a pro type of game right now, Stefanski said.

That basketball savvy comes from his parents. Boris Vucevic played professionally in Europe and he was a teammate of Hall of Famer Drazen Petrovic on the Yugoslavian national team. His mother, Ljiljana Vucevic, also played for the Yugoslavian national team and for a pro club in Sarajevo.

In other words, Vucevic has the bloodlines.

He also comes heavily endorsed by head coach Doug Collins.

We are incredibly thrilled to draft Nikola Vucevic, Collins said in a statement. I liked him from the moment I saw him at the Chicago pre-draft camp. He is a hard-working, skilled big man with a desire to succeed who gives us more size in the front court, which is a need. He is a player that we are ecstatic to have on our roster and I look forward to coaching him.

Besides the obvious, Collins endorsement is important because hes going to ask a lot out of his young center next season. Stefanski says Collins is a demanding, defensive-minded coach, which is just the type of guy Vucevic played for at USC under Kevin ONeill. That was an atmosphere in which Vucevic thrived in and he says his defense is better than advertised.

I think that, defensively, Im better than people give me credit for, Vucevic said during a post-draft conference call. I think I have good size, and I have good length, so I can use that but I think I read the game well, and I know how to play defense. My coaches at USC were defensive-minded, and they taught me a lot about it.

A defensive center was exactly what the Sixers were looking for when the season ended, too. With restricted free agent Spencer Hawes likely returning, the Sixers will have some depth down low. Yeah, they will be young and probably not as intimidating in the paint, but the team got the center they wanted.

Hes a stone-cold center, Stefanski said, adding Vucevic was a stretch-center.

Certainly the coach wont be the only one with advice for Vucevic. Though he was the tallest player in the draft at just a shade under 7-feet tall, Stefanski described Vucevic as a player who is not an above-the-rim type of player.

He needs to have more explosiveness. Again, hes only 20 years old. If he can increase that, then all the reports we got about him being a hard worker, Stefanski said.

Vucevic says his low-post game was the strongest aspect of his offensive repertoire and fancies himself an outside threat, too. Better yet, he says hes very familiar with the Sixers and should fit in quite well.

I know a lot about them. I follow the NBA games, and I watch a lot of it, Vucevic said. I watch a lot Sixers games, I watched their series with the Miami Heat, and they have a great young team. With the years to come, I think well have a pretty good team, and well be in the playoffs, and its going to be fun.
Related: Sixers pick Temple's Allen in second roundDraft comes and goes with Iguodala still a Sixer

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