In a season filled with question marks, the Blazers may well have finally found an answer – or at least the start of one – with the addition of Jusuf Nurkic. The Bosnian native has exploded from a languishing role on the Nuggets’ bench to being a key starter for the Blazers. Since the much needed all star break, the Blazers have gone 4-2 including two wins against a fiery Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder. Nurkic in this span of time has already managed to solidify his place in the starting lineup, make key plays in close game situations and fill up box scores through his heavy paint presence.
Promising Start for New Trail Blazer Jusuf Nurkic
A Changed Man
Since joining the Blazers, Nurkic has averaged 15 points, 8 rebounds and 4 assists a game. To put this in context, he had not been able to put up that stat line even once in Denver in the 16/17 season prior to the trade.
There were reports while he was with the Nuggets that he was unhappy playing second fiddle to Nikola Jokic on the bench, complained about lack of playing time and even put on some extra weight. Having logged 0 minutes in 5 out of his last 12 games before joining the Blazers, there was always uncertainty as to how important a role would be entrusted with him on his new team. But Nurkic’s effort and ability has been met with high praise from all, not only in game but throughout practices as well.
Head coach Terry Stotts praised Nurkic’s “good feel for the game,” and said he looked forward to “giving him opportunities, whether they are in the post, pick and rolls or through passing.” So far, he has demonstrated all of those offensive capabilities very effectively.
Nurkic also claimed after their win over the Magic a week ago that he had ‘had fun’ for the first time in two years. In the grand scheme of things, passing comments like those may not be too important. But its important to remember that his time in Denver ended roughly, after arguments with the coaches and time spent on the bench. To have his morale restored and to see him getting along with teammates is refreshing, and ensures the post-trade team chemistry remains high. It’s not often a player gels into a new roster as comfortably as Nurkic has.
On Court Ability
If the Blazers thought they would be missing Mason Plumlee’s offensive versatility – especially his passing – when they traded him away, they’ve been pleasantly surprised at Nurkic’s IQ on the court.
He’s been able to do many things on offence. Playing the pick and roll game and taking midrange jumpers has been successful for him thus far. However, what separates him from any player the Blazers have had since LaMarcus Aldridge bid farewell two seasons ago is a polished post game. For the Blazers, having a player who can be successful down low takes a lot of pressure off their star guards, Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. They now have another facet from which their offence can run, and so at the very least he poses a distraction to the opposition from devoting all their defensive attention to the Blazers backcourt.
In the team’s victory over the Thunder yesterday, he was entrusted with the ball twice in the post in the final minute of play. In both situations, the game was tied. And in both situations, he used his finesse and strength to guide the ball into the basket and nudge the Blazers to a tight victory.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OFLOsj3ZSH4 skip to 0:55
On the opposite end of the floor, however, work remains to be done from Nurkic’s side. He had been dubbed to have a far better defensive game than Mason Plumlee, but that hasn’t quite translated to the stats sheet yet. They’re still the 6th least efficient team on defence in the league, and in not even one game since he has been traded have the Blazers restricted their opponents to less than 100 points.
That being said, his upside is massive. His 7”2 wingspan is complemented with all of 280 lbs of body weight. Moreover, he had the best defensive rating on the Nuggets prior to being traded. He’s still on a very new team and will take more time to adjust. Eventually, we can expect his interior defence to rise significantly.
The Blazers are currently thrashing about in a 6-horse-race for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. They boast a superior roster to all other teams in this race, and with the addition of Nurkic, can expect to make a serious push for the playoffs as we reach the business end of the season. While the onus of making the playoffs falls mainly on Lillard and McCollum, it is role players like Jusuf Nurkic who at the end of the day push Portland through that final step.
Denver Nuggets’ center Jusuf Nurkic (R) shoots as Indiana Pacers’ center Myles Turner (L) tries to block during the NBA Global Game London 2017 basketball game between Indiana Pacers and Denver Nuggets at the O2 Arena in London on January 12, 2017. / AFP / Glyn KIRK (Photo credit should read GLYN KIRK/AFP/Getty Images)