Coach Doug Collins insists that he likes what he has seen of 76ers first-round pick Nikola Vucevic, the 7-foot, 240-pound center out of Southern Cal.

But that doesn't mean that Vucevic, selected No. 16 overall in the NBA draft, will receive immediate playing time.

The Sixers start with five games on the road beginning with the Dec. 26 opener at Portland, and with the abbreviated 66-game schedule, there is little time to learn on the job.

"I don't want to have to throw him in the fire now. It's not that he isn't capable of doing it, but we need experienced guys to start the season," Collins said following Monday's practice at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine.

During Friday's 103-78 preseason win at Washington, Vucevic went scoreless, shooting 0 for 4 from the field. He also didn't have any rebounds but compiled five assists.

"I think he is progressing well," Collins said. "His teammates like him. He knows how to play."

Vucevic should get a chance in the Sixers' second and final preseason game Tuesday at the Wells Fargo Center against the same Wizards.

Unlike most of his teammates, Vucevic played in actual games during the NBA lockout. He returned to play in Montenegro, where he was raised. Competing in the Adriatic League for Buducnost, he had some big games, including a 21-point, 20-rebound effort in an 84-80 win over Kirka.

"From the summer on, I probably played close to 40 games if you include tournaments," said Vucevic, who left USC following his junior year in which he averaged 17.1 points and 10.3 rebounds. "I think it really helped me."

There isn't a player in the NBA who doesn't desire regular minutes, but Vucevic is well aware of the situation and realizes he will have to be patient as a rookie.

"Coming from college, it takes time to adjust to the NBA play," he said. "I understand there would be an adjustment and didn't expect to come in right away, so I will take it step by step."

With so many games in a condensed period of time, Collins could be forced to go deeper in his bench than usual. Collins said he hopes that Marreese Speights can provide an integral frontcourt spark off the bench.

As for Vucevic, getting in basketball shape wasn't a problem due to his busy offseason. What he and all rookies have to do is learn how to react quickly, especially on the defensive end.

"Nik does a great job of listening and communication," Sixers swingman Thaddeus Young said.

Even with all the offseason basketball that he played, Vucevic has had to adjust to the daily intensity in the Sixers practices.

"In Europe you will see a practice like we have a couple of times, but here it is every day," Vucevic said. "The guys are competitive and want to win, and that is the way it should be."