THE SIXERS were granted possession with 0.7 seconds remaining in the second quarter of Tuesday's preseason win over the Wizards, a minuscule amount of time that usually allows fans to get a head start on beating the bathroom lines. Yet it was still enough time for Sixers coach Doug Collins to see what his first-round pick, Nikola Vucevic, could do in a pressure situation.
Collins wanted a 20-second timeout. He called a play for Vucevic to receive the inbound beyond the three-point line at the top of the key. Vucevic took the pass from Jrue Holiday, squared to the basket and released a shot that fell through with 0.1 second remaining. It marked Vucevic's first three points in a Sixers uniform and provided a glimpse of what the team hopes the promising big man can contribute this season.
"I was way open," Vucevic said. "It was great for my confidence to make that shot."
When the Sixers invested the No. 16 overall pick in the 7-foot, 240-pound center from USC, Vucevic was billed as a versatile big man who can shoot. The NBA lockout kept the team from working with Vucevic until earlier this month, and all he received to prepare for the season was an abbreviated training camp and two preseason games. Vucevic spent the work stoppage playing professional basketball in Montenegro, where he was raised. There's still considerable room for growth, although Collins has been pleased with what he's seen from Vucevic.
"I like his skill," Collins said. "I like how hard he works. I like his shooting touch."
Vucevic failed to score in the Sixers' preseason opener on Dec. 16, finishing 0-for-4 from the field in 23 minutes. But Collins was quick to point out that Vucevic recorded five assists, displaying the all-around game that attracted the Sixers to Vucevic in June.
On Tuesday, Collins limited Vucevic to 11 minutes, although he played Vucevic at the end of both the first half and the second half. Collins said it was important that he see how Vucevic fit in with key rotation players, and Vucevic said he's becoming more comfortable with the Sixers' front-line players.
Asked to identify what has improved the most since the Sixers began working this month, Vucevic replied: "My confidence. I'm more comfortable. At the beginning, you just kind of find yourself."
Collins still wants to see more. Vucevic was a featured scorer with the Trojans, scoring 17.1 points per game on 50.5 percent shooting. But in Philadelphia, Vucevic hasn't yet shown the same aggressiveness.
"That will come with time," Collins said. "A lot of times with younger players, initially they want to blend in. But I think on our team he'll find out real quickly that our guys cheer for each other and they want him to do well. He picks up all our schemes very well."
The Sixers waived Antonio Anderson, Dwayne Jones, Mike Tisdale and Xavier Silas to trim their roster to 14 before the Dec. 26 season opener at Portland. Silas was the only one of the four to play during the preseason.