Bulls coach Billy Donovan defends big man Nikola Vucevic from critics

MINNEAPOLIS – It’s that time of the season.

The pointing of fingers is at an all-time high, the blame game is in full swing, and the target is usually Bulls big man Nikola Vucevic.

And while his shooting has been suspect this season, especially from three-point range, the Bulls’ Billy Donovan insisted on Sunday that there has been no drop off in Vucevic’s skillset from the coach’s perspective, and the work ethic is still elite for the 33-year-old.

“He’s a consummate professional, he’s incredibly reliable, he’s durable, he’s available, which I think as a player is the most important thing,” Donovan said, when asked if he felt Vucevic was going through diminishing skills. “I know he’s a much, much better shooter than he has shown this year. I really believe that.

“I think as you go back through his career and you look at it, he’s had some years that may be a little bit down that might not be as consistent to where he’s been shooting the ball, but no, he can obviously play from the post, he can play inside the pocket, he can stretch the floor, keeps the ball alive, good reversal guy, all those kinds of things. I don’t see him, from my perspective, it’s a skill issue at all.”

The Bulls and Donovan better hope that’s not the case.

They just inked Vucevic to a three-year extension over the summer, and he made $18.5 million this season, it goes up to $20 million next season, and then $21.4 million in the final year of the deal.

If he’s on his way to a steady decline like his critics like to point out, that could be a lot of dead money already joining dead money.

What Donovan definitely wasn’t concerned about was Vucevic’s work ethic taking a dip. That’s just not his make-up.

“That’s the thing that’s amazing, like fly in (Saturday), we had the gym available for some of the guys that didn’t play (Friday), and (Vucevic is) over there working,” Donovan said. “He’s in the weight room. We get into hotels, and I get my bag, throw some shorts on, go down to the weightroom to work out when we arrive and he’s in there. He’s on the bike, he’s lifting.

“He does a really good job of taking care of himself and I have a lot of respect for him from that standpoint because he gets himself up every day to go do that. You can rest assured that every day he’s going to be that first guy in there.”

As for Vucevic, he’s given the same answer about the social media critics for two consecutive years.

“Out of the three of us (Vucevic, DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine), I’m the one that has sacrificed the most from an individual (standpoint),” Vucevic said earlier this season. “That’s why I feel like the people that have been critical of me really don’t understand how basketball works, what it takes for us to function as a group.

“It’s OK; not everyone is going to like you.’’

Campaign trail

The Bulls released a hype video promoting Coby White for the league’s Most Improved Player Award on Sunday, and even though the fifth-year guard’s numbers have dipped the last month, Donovan was obviously backing his guy.

“I think he warrants every bit being mentioned in the mix with those guys,” Donovan said. “I don’t think there’s any question. I think if you look at what he’s done up to this point he’s definitely warranted being in consideration because he’s made some significant strides.”

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