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Jusuf Nurkic an Early Candidate for Most Improved Player

The time is right and the situation is ideal. Nurkic could rise to the top in Portland.

NBA: Preseason-Maccabi Haifa B.C. at Portland Trail Blazers Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

With one tick of the countdown clock left before the NBA season begins tomorrow, the media world is in full-on prediction mode. This morning, the staff of The Crossover conducted a roundtable, laying bare their award forecasts for the coming year. Along with the stars and the expected stars to-be, one Trail Blazer’s name was called. Portland center Jusuf Nurkic appeared in Ben Golliver’s crystal ball as the Most Improved Player of the 2017-18 season.

All signs point to Jusuf Nurkic enjoying a monster season in Portland: He’s set to start, he’s entrenched as a lead scoring option, he’s playing with two lead guards who value his contributions, he’s angling for a possible max contract, he’s healthy, and he’s significantly lighter after a summer of hard work. Now, contrast that with his situation last season. In Denver, he was fighting with Nikola Jokic for starts, minutes and touches, and he was stuck without a real point guard to set him up. Then, following a long-awaited trade to Portland, he enjoyed a mini-breakout only to suffer a leg injury that sidelined him for most of the playoffs.

Nurkic’s strong closing push helped the Blazers secure the West’s final playoff spot, and it put him on the national map for the first time during his career. The Bosnian center enters this season with real momentum, and a similar late-season explosion in 2015-16 helped set up Giannis Antetokounmpo’s 2017 Most Improved Player campaign.

Nurkic averaged 8.0 points and 5.8 rebounds per game as his role diminished in Denver last season, but improved to a robust 15.2 points and 10.4 rebounds per game through 20 contests with Portland. His production was no fluke and many anticipate a strong follow-up from the 23-year-old.

Other picks for most improved:

To read the award predictions in full, as well as each contributor’s reasoning, follow this link. Who do you think will thrive this season?