ATLANTA — In the last six months, Nik Vucevic has proven he can adjust to a new team, rebound consistently, score, play extended minutes and recover from a concussion.
The 22-year-old Orlando Magic center will be just as busy these next six months.
He plans to spend time in the weight room to increase his overall strength. He expects to improve his low-post moves and his midrange game. And he also has carved out time to play for Montenegro in Europe's international championship tournament, EuroBasket 2013.
"I'm definitely going to spend a lot of time in the weight room and do stuff to get quicker, more explosive, more mobile sideways," Vucevic said. "I think that's going to help my game a lot."
The first significant test of Vucevic's offseason regimen will occur in Jesenice, Slovenia. There on Sept. 4, Vucevic will play for Montenegro as it opens its EuroBasket schedule against Macedonia. The tournament will serve as another significant milestone for Vucevic — and, perhaps, an early indication of what he still can accomplish in the NBA.
This season, his first with the Magic, he has exceeded perhaps even his own expectations. He is averaging 12.5 points per game, and entering Sunday ranked third in the league in rebounding, averaging 11.5 boards per game.
The toughest test occurred recently when he absorbed a Tyler Hansbrough elbow as they positioned themselves for a rebound during a game on March 19. The blow left Vucevic dazed and wondering whether he had lost any teeth, but he played on. A couple of days later, doctors determined he had sustained a mild concussion.
Vucevic had never suffered a concussion before, and although he endured some headaches and sensitivity to light, those symptoms quickly faded.
What proved more difficult was sitting at home, unable to do much more than spend time with his parents, who already happened to be visiting from Europe. In an attempt to accelerate his recovery, the Magic's medical staff advised Vucevic not to watch TV, not to read and not to send text messages.
"I just had to take it slow and make sure I did the right things," he said. "Then, I was just bored. It was frustrating to watch. These guys were playing hard, and I wanted to be out there and help them win."
After he missed five games, Vucevic played Saturday in the Magic's 97-88 loss to the Atlanta Hawks. Sporting a new mouthpiece to absorb the shock of potential hits, he played 39 minutes, scored 17 points and collected 15 rebounds.
Magic coach Jacque Vaughn kept asking Vucevic if he felt OK.
Each time, Vucevic responded, "Yes."
"He's unbelievable," Vaughn said afterward. "The stamina that he has, he gets back in the lineup and he gives us a double-double."
Vucevic has exceeded expectations all season.
Which begs the question: Just how much better can the 7-footer become?
The Magic won't make the playoffs, but Vucevic could turn that to his advantage. He'll have a bit more time to do his strength work and to start refining his on-court game.
Montenegro could reap the initial dividends. Vucevic will play power forward, while Minnesota Timberwolves restricted free agent-to-be Nikola Pekovic is expected to play center.
They could form a dominant national-team frontcourt for the next decade.
The Magic hope Vucevic can be one of their franchise's long-term linchpins.
"I knew that I could rebound, but I wasn't sure it was going to happen really my second year [in the league]," Vucevic said. "It's about effort. Just go and grab it. Once you kind of get into that rhythm where you grab a lot of rebounds every game, it kind of gets easier."
It might get even easier after a successful summer.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun