Center Nikola Vucevic isn’t broken, but the Bulls need to get him going

Nikola Vucevic has had a rough month, and that was all on display in the loss to Miami. With the season a quarter of the way through, it’s now up to the coaching staff to figure out how to get him going if the Bulls want to be a threat in the postseason.

SHARE Center Nikola Vucevic isn’t broken, but the Bulls need to get him going

Bulls center Nikola Vucevic isn’t broken, but he isn’t right.

He still was finding his way in the Bulls’ revamped offense before being sidelined with the coronavirus and remains a bit lost after missing seven games.

It’s compounded now, however, by the after-effects of being sick, getting a little bit out of game shape and an unforgiving schedule that saw Vucevic and the Bulls play three games in four days upon his return.

And the third game of that marathon just happened to come against the Heat, one of the better defensive teams in the league.

In the Bulls’ three-point loss Saturday, Vucevic took only nine shots — his second-lowest total of the season — scored only seven points and committed three turnovers.

The Heat flat-out harassed Vucevic every time he got the ball, switching on every pick-and-roll. When he got a mismatch in the paint, they ran multiple defenders at him with every entry pass.

Little should spook Vucevic at this point in his career, but the Heat did. Even when he had a mismatch in the paint and the Heat didn’t send help, he was looking to pass quickly, rather than take advantage of his size at the rim.

The good news is there aren’t many other teams in the NBA that can do what the Heat does. That doesn’t mean, however, that coach Billy Donovan isn’t focused on getting Vucevic working at full capacity sooner than later.

‘‘I think it is a really, really good game for myself to look at,’’ Donovan said. ‘‘They switched a lot over to [Vucevic]. Then when he went into the post, they were really bringing a lot of people. Then when he caught it, they were bringing a lot of people at him.

‘‘I’ve got to find ways to coach and try and help him a little bit more in that situation. I do think he’s getting his footing back under him. I personally thought we did not utilize him well enough.’’

That kind of has been a storyline of the season.

Through the first quarter of the season, forward DeMar DeRozan is arguably in the MVP talk. Guard Zach LaVine’s offensive numbers are down a bit across the board from last season, but he also has been playing better defense.

The player who seems to be the most affected by the Bulls’ offseason roster turnover has been Vucevic. His 13.4 points per game are his lowest since his first season with the Magic in 2012-13, and his 40% shooting from the field is a career low.

The one number that is up? His 4.1 assists per game would be a career high if that holds up.

But that also has been a problem. Vucevic is as willing a passer as any big man in the league, but he has to figure out when it’s time for him to be selfish and become a scoring force.

The Bulls can’t live off DeRozan, LaVine and transition baskets off turnovers in the playoffs. The game slows down in the postseason, and they’ll need some old-school, back-to-the-basket post-ups from Vucevic. The loss to the Heat was a reminder of that.

‘‘We’ve got to find ways to help [Vucevic] a little bit more in those situations,’’ Donovan said. ‘‘It was good we went through some of that, so we can get better at utilizing him.’’

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