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Bulls big man Nikola Vucevic embracing new role — running shoes and all

The Bulls built the roster to be up-tempo for the 2021-22 season, and that means Vucevic must adjust the way he does things.

The Bulls’ Nikola Vucevic pushes up against the Cleveland Cavaliers’ Kevin Love during Tuesday’s preseason game.
The Bulls’ Nikola Vucevic pushes up against the Cleveland Cavaliers’ Kevin Love during Tuesday’s preseason game.
Charles Rex Arbogast/AP

Nikola Vucevic found out quickly on Tuesday that he wasn’t in Orlando anymore.

Heck, he wasn’t even on the same Bulls team that acquired him from the Magic last season.

What does all that mean for the 30-year-old veteran?

Get ready to run, big man.

The additions of dynamic passing guards Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso changed the way coach Billy Donovan wants to play. Sure, Vucevic is still going to get his moments in the post — a place he has lived and dominated for years — but Donovan wants this team hitting the R2 turbo button on the game controller as often as possible.

That’s why the coach has raised the conditioning bar in camp.

“The biggest thing for us is we’ve really got to be in great shape because we’ve got to play faster,’’ Donovan said. “We’ve got to run. That’s Lonzo’s strength, throwing the ball ahead. Zach [LaVine] and DeMar [DeRozan] are good in transition. Utilizing ‘Vooch’ maybe a little bit more as a dynamic passer up top.’’

That was seen several times in the preseason blowout of the Cavaliers.

So how are they getting Vucevic down the floor quicker without taking away from his rebounding? That’s where Donovan comes in.

On made baskets by the opponent, Vucevic will be urged to leak out quickly, not concerning himself with the inbound. On missed baskets, especially if he’s deep in the paint or gets the rebound, that plays into what Donovan wants from him.

“On missed shots if [Vucevic’s] defensive rebounding and he’s in the paint with most centers, and he’s trailing in, he’s a great fill guy, whether it’s shooting threes or throwing it to him and letting him get to the next side of the floor,’’ Donovan said. “That’s what I’m hoping we can do, but certainly on made baskets getting him down the floor and into the offense early will be important.’’

Vucevic had an off shooting night against the Cavs, going 5-for-13 from the field and 0-for-5 on threes. The good news was all the threes were fairly wide open, and that’s a shot that he can knock down easily.

Four of Vucevic’s three-point attempts came off missed shots by the Cavs, so check the boxes for his getting down the floor quickly and playing the role of the fill guy.

“A lot of the things we talked about wanting to do, we did [Tuesday] night,’’ Vucevic said. “So that was a big step for us.’’

Vucevic also admitted that it’s a much different style of play from his days in Orlando, and even last season in the 26 games he played with the Bulls after he was acquired at the deadline. But it’s a style of play he is eager to embrace.

“We all want to do that because the bigger picture is we want to win as a team,’’ Vucevic said. “A lot of us who came here didn’t really experience that before. So we want to get that now. Even if my role is different, it will be easier to play.

“When you have so much talent and so many guys who are skilled, it makes the game easier. When you have guys who know how to play, things happen quicker. Also it’s harder on defenses because we have so many options and so many ways we can score. We all can shoot, pass, attack. If we continue to grow as a team, we can be really good.’’