Center Nikola Vucevic took the court for his 22nd game with the Bulls on Friday against the Celtics at the United Center.
And while it’s a small sample size, it’s fair to kid him about being a ‘‘stretch five.’’
That’s what happens when a 6-11, 260-pound banger is shooting a career-high 44% from three-point range since joining the Bulls in a trade-deadline deal with the Magic in late March.
Not that Vucevic hadn’t already embraced the three-pointer as a weapon with the Magic. The big jump came between the 2018-19 and 2019-20 seasons, when his three-point attempts per game went from 2.9 to 4.7. The seed, however, was planted before that.
‘‘It was a process for me, really,’’ said Vucevic, who turned in a triple-double with 18 points, 14 rebounds and 10 assists in the Bulls’ 121-99 victory. ‘‘I want to say four or five years ago, when Frank Vogel got hired by the Magic, it’s something he talked to me about, shooting threes. And also that’s when the new front office came in. They also talked to me about shooting more threes and [how] adding that to my game was going to help me, help the team. It’s kind of also where the NBA was going, just everybody was shooting threes.’’
The way Vucevic saw it, why be left out of the party?
Besides having great footwork in the post and a solid mid-range game, becoming a threat from outside has boosted Vucevic’s stock and caught the eye of the rest of the league. That’s how he has become a two-time All-Star.
But Vucevic said he really noticed the importance of the three-pointer in the Magic’s first-round playoff matchup last season against the Bucks. The Magic surprised the favored Bucks with a 12-point victory in Game 1, with Vucevic making five three-pointers and scoring 35 points. The Bucks won the next four games to advance, but Vucevic shot 18-for-44 (41%) from three-point range and averaged 28 points in the series.
‘‘The way they defend, I was able to get a lot of open looks and was able to see how that helped myself, how it helped the team, how it was just another weapon I could add to my game,’’’ Vucevic said. ‘‘That series is when it kind of clicked in my mind to where I just started feeling much more comfortable than before about shooting that.
‘‘I think it’s also the way the NBA has been going, and I had to adjust. I used to shoot a lot of mid-ranges. That’s not as much a part of the way teams play, so I had to make an adjustment and evolve.’’
Considering the Bulls have him under contract for the next two seasons, they might benefit from that evolution.
Coach Billy Donovan has been a huge fan of what physical forward Daniel Theis has done since coming over from the Celtics at the trade deadline. And with the Celtics in town Friday, Donovan reiterated it.
‘‘He’s a physical player,’’ Donovan said. ‘‘He’s rebounded the ball well. We’ve played big, so I know a lot of the times in Boston he was at [center] and with us, because of Vucevic, he’s been a little bit more at the power-forward spot. But just his physicality, his defense, his talk have been really, really good.’’
Considering Theis will become an unrestricted free agent this offseason, Donovan should be throwing out some praise. Call it Recruiting 101.