Put Bulls big man Nikola Vucevic in the corner? He’s becoming just fine with that
The corner three has always been unexplored territory for Vucevic. But with the new-look spacing of the Bulls’ offense and some hard work, it’s a spot in which he is finding success.
Bulls center Nikola Vucevic found out how much a middle finger aimed in the general direction of a fan costs. The NBA made it clear Friday, putting him in the corner by punishing him with a $15,000 fine.
Vucevic is making about $270,000 per game this season, so the fine won’t affect him much. And being put in the corner might be a good thing for him right now.
With 2:46 left in the Bulls’ loss Wednesday to the Pelicans, it looked as though Vucevic would be the hero after he made his second three-pointer in 90 seconds to give them a one-point lead.
Significant? Yes, specifically because of where he was when he made the shot.
Entering this season, Vucevic had shot a majority of his three-pointers from the top of the arc. To him, the corner was a dark cave he rather would not explore.
While it’s the easiest three-pointer to make because of the distance — 22 feet, compared with 23 feet, 9 inches everywhere else — he just wasn’t comfortable there. That’s not surprising, considering most centers gifted enough to stretch the floor and shoot three-pointers are often at the top of the arc for spacing purposes.
But the corner three-pointer Vucevic made against the Pelicans was his seventh of the season in 10 attempts. He made five corner three-pointers last season, three in 2020-21 and five the season before that.
‘‘I’ve already made more threes from the corner than I have at any time in my career,’’ Vucevic said. ‘‘I’m in that position a lot, especially toward the end of the game, because of our spacing. I give other guys space so they can work and get to the paint. Then when the defense collapses, they’re able to find me.’’
That doesn’t mean Vucevic is totally comfortable there yet, and that’s understandable. Just look at some other big men who like to shoot three-pointers. The Nuggets’ Nikola Jokic took 288 three-pointers last season but only 12 from the corners, making two. The 76ers’ Joel Embiid took 251 but only 16 from the corners, making four.
‘‘I really haven’t shot it much my whole career, so I’ve had to work at it,’’ Vucevic said. ‘‘I’m working on it daily. I know the work I put in, and I know every shot I put up I have a chance of making it.’’
That work is especially appreciated by teammates Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan because of the benefit they get out of it.
DeRozan is a mid-range maestro, so Vucevic pulling an opposing big man out with him means more room for DeRozan to operate. It also gives LaVine a clearer lane to drive through.
And late in games, when the Bulls have played more isolation, Vucevic in the corner is a great option to have.
‘‘Above the [arc], he hasn’t shot it great this year,’’ coach Billy Donovan said of Vucevic. ‘‘His corner threes have been really elite, and it does a couple of things. One, it takes the team’s other big away from the basket, so we can drive the ball a little bit more. Then he’s always there as an outlet. If he can’t get the shot, he can get it to the next action.’’