Yes, Nikola Vucevic’s proper nickname is Vucci Mane, but I’m rolling with “Tesla.” Deal with it.
Anyway, Nikola Vucevic and Tim Duncan are the Eastern and Western Conference Players of the Week for March 24th through the 30th, per an NBA press release:
The Orlando Magic’s Nikola Vucevic and the San Antonio Spurs’ Tim Duncan today were named NBA Eastern and Western Conference Players of the Week, respectively, for games played Monday, March 24, through Sunday, March 30.
Vucevic led the Magic to a 2-1 week, which included wins over the Portland Trail Blazers and Charlotte Bobcats, behind averages of 22.7 points (sixth in the conference) and a league leading 14.3 rebounds. He posted a point-rebound double-double in all three contests, including a 24-point, 23-rebound effort on March 28, during Orlando’s 110-105 win over Charlotte.
Duncan led the Spurs to the NBA’s lone unbeaten record on the week at 4-0. He averaged 20.0 points (tied-eighth in the conference) on .625 shooting from the field (eighth in the conference), 8.5 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 2.0 steals. On March 26, Duncan’s versatility was on display as he posted 29 points, 13 rebounds, five assists, two blocks and two steals during a 108-103 win over the Denver Nuggets.
The selections of Vucevic and Duncan, two big men in a league supposedly bereft of pivots, nicely encapsulate this weird 2013-14 season. Peaks and valleys defined this most recent trek through the NBA calendar. Mediocre teams exist, sure, as the Eastern Conference can attest, but our attention this year belongs to the association’s income inequality. This was a season of haves and have-nots — like most seasons — but with the disparity cranked to an all-time high.*
*That’s the perception, anyway. Your mileage may vary.
On the one hand, the Magic, stuck in a spiral of silent putridity. Orlando is a team on the fringes, wearing well-worn dirt beneath the treads of a tank too long lost in the desert of the lottery. As a half-dozen teams jostle for positioning at the top of the lottery, the Magic’s continued dalliance with basketball as unintelligible performance art seems lost in the moment. They tank, but without celebration or condemnation, because there’s little attention paid their way.
And that’s not a good thing. The lack of eyeballs is death to an NBA team, a long decay that festers for years before an organization is transplanted to another host. Orlando isn’t near that territory, not so soon after the successes of the Dwight Howard territory. But as the losing seasons pile up, so too do expectations for a turnaround, which can threaten the slow and steady progress that builds just beneath the surface.
Because even as they lose, the Magic have their moments. The young players on the roster are talented, if raw, and capable of extraordinary bursts of play. Vucevic still falls into that category, but as with Orlando, there’s pressure to become what can be as quickly as possible. Vuc flashes his scoring and rebounding prowess with regularity, but his future will be defined by his defense. That’s something he’s still learning. Like the Magic, he’ll need time to get there. Like Orlando, he might not have it.
On the other end of the spectrum, the Spurs and their ilk reside. The battle for supremacy this year promises to be spectacular, if waged heavily in the West. And as another 82-game slog winds down, San Antonio yet again finds itself a formidable contender to the throne. Unheralded for most of the season due to their own under-the-radar nature, the Spurs erupted this past month, dominating all challengers. Some worry they’ve peaked too soon, but that supposes that the team has peaked.
Duncan might have something to say about that. Though he got off to a rough start on the offensive end, Duncan’s shooting numbers have been significantly better since. The Duncan of today isn’t the Duncan of December, and the Spurs reflect that. Yet the mirror works in both directions. With the team stricken by injury after injury, San Antonio’s lineups have been in constant flux this year. They’ve been no worse for it, of course, poised as they are for homecourt advantage through the postseason. But Duncan and his team are at their very best when wrapped in the comfort of their most trusted contributors — Parker and Ginobili and Leonard and Diaw and Splitter and Green when he’s in the “Hot” phase of his “IcyHot” cycle. If they’re all healthy and ready, the Spurs and their storied big man are at their very best.
These are the stories of the season — catastrophes gone according to plan and the meticulous serendipity of the elite. Vucevic and Duncan are their manifestations.
The regular season is at its end. For some, the playoffs beckon; others heed the siren’s call of the lottery. For all, Tesla (I SAID DEAL WITH IT) and the Big Fundamental light the way.