Bulls coach Billy Donovan defends center Nikola Vucevic’s mental toughness

Not only did Donovan point out everything Vucevic brings to the table, but he also mentioned everything he has had to leave at the table in sacrificing for the team.

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Bulls coach Billy Donovan doesn’t play the blame game.

He also doesn’t put any stock into what he perceives as criticism of any of his players from the fan base or on social media.

So the idea of making center Nikola Vucevic the scapegoat for when things don’t go as well as they should for the Bulls doesn’t sit well with Donovan, who said that kind of thinking is 100% inaccurate.

He specifically took issue with the idea that Vucevic is better suited for a smaller market than for Chicago in terms of mental toughness.

‘‘I think his biggest challenge, to me, is he’s just got to let stuff go . . . on himself,’’ Donovan said Sunday. ‘‘When he misses a shot in the lane, he’s got to be able to move past that.

‘‘But in terms of his heart, his mental toughness of being in a bigger market, I have no issues with that. He always responds, and I give him a lot of credit. Anytime he, in his mind, has not played to the level that he’s wanted to play, that guy is in the gym. You don’t have to ask him; you don’t have to beg him to come in there.

‘‘I mean, we’re coming out of San Antonio [on Friday], and he was one of the first guys in the gym [Saturday]. He’s got a full lather on before we’re starting practice. He’s getting shots, he’s working, so his work ethic is really, really good.’’

That has been true all season, even though his numbers have been down.

Before scoring 24 points on 11-for-15 shooting Sunday, Vucevic was shooting 44.2% from the field, his worst percentage since he entered the league in 2011. He was shooting 33% from three-point range, his worst percentage since he started using the shot as a weapon in 2017-18. And his average of 16.6 points was his lowest since 2017-18.

Donovan didn’t make excuses for that as much as he gave an honest explanation.

‘‘I think when you have guys that have been All-Stars for a period of time and you want to win, there’s sacrifices that you have to make,’’ Donovan said. ‘‘And [Vucevic] is a guy, the way he plays, the ball needs to find him. It needs to find him at the three-point line, it needs to find him in the post, it needs to find him in the pocket in pick-and-rolls. So he’s relying on other guys.

‘‘With maybe Zach [LaVine] and DeMar [DeRozan], when you get them in space or you play them in pick-and-roll, get them to the elbows, those guys can really have the ball and can create. I do think [Vucevic] has sacrificed a lot for our team.

‘‘You also have to realize that, for nine years in his career [with the Magic] when the ball is just being pumped to you all the time, [if] he misses a jump hook . . . the next possession it’s going to come right back down there. And the next possession. Everything is being played around him.

‘‘I think the three of them [Vucevic, LaVine and DeRozan], their mentality has really been to do whatever they can to win, and [Vucevic] is trying to find his spots, find his areas.’’

Going Green

Forward Javonte Green has had no setbacks with the groin injury that sidelined him for most of January, and Donovan said he might have his minutes restrictions lifted sooner than later.

If Green comes out of the Bulls’ game Tuesday against the Magic feeling good, then Donovan said he could be back to a more ‘‘normal situation.’’

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