The Portland Trail Blazers are off to a fast start to the season, mostly due to a few pleasant surprises; Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum are playing solid defense, Ed Davis and Caleb Swanigan are proving to be a bruising bench duo, and Evan Turner looks much more comfortable than he did last season. But for all of the positives, there has been some hand-wringing over the slow start of center Jusuf Nurkic, as evidenced by the Blazer’s Edge Mailbag.
I'm a little nervous about Nurk not doing as great as we thought so far. I bet I'm not alone haha. Is he the third star we thought he was or maybe not? If he is then what's going on or what needs to go better? Is it like a slump or something about the team?
You’re not alone Parker. After Nurkic put in his monster 20-game run last season, expectations were sky-high. When he came to camp 35 pounds lighter, they shot into the stratosphere. It’s easy for fans to forget that we’re talking about a 23-year-old big man who will get his first full season of significant minutes this year.
The first thing that needs to change about Nurkic’s season may be our own perceptions. Even during those 20 games with the Blazers, he put up 12 points or fewer in eight games, 40 percent of his appearances. He’s always been a player who will consistently put up 12-13 points a night, with the occasional huge scoring burst that pushes his overall average up.
Next, consider opponents. The Blazers opened the season against the Phoenix Suns and Indiana Pacers, the 3rd- and 7th-fastest-paced offenses in the NBA. Playing up and down basketball doesn’t fit Nurkic’s style at all. Already prone to rushing his shots in the post, Nurkic tried to keep up by forcing shots and being careless with the ball. 11 of Nurkic’s 16 turnovers came in these two outings.
Nurkic has historically struggled with foul trouble, averaging 5.4 fouls per 36 minutes for his career, 4.3 per 36 as a Blazer last season. Little has changed in the regard; he’s committed 4.3 fouls per 36 so far this season. Nurkic still tends to reach and take more chances than he should, especially evident when he fell for some of DeMarcus Cousins’ tricks. It’s a hallmark of young big men.
The shaky start isn’t so much regression as the Bosnian Beast being who he is at this point. Even with the obvious negatives so far this season, we’re still talking about a guy putting up nearly 13 points and eight rebounds a night with the best defensive rating on the Blazers among significant rotation players. The team is committed to getting him involved, as evidenced by his massive usage rate. If he keeps getting the ball, he won’t continue to shoot 36 percent all year.
Nurkic is struggling a bit, but if you’re pressing the panic button, that’s probably due to your own hopes for All-Star-level performances. Nurkic is still who we thought he was: a young, imposing big with surprisingly solid footwork and a soft touch from the outside. He has plenty of time to work out his issues. Aside from rushing his shot in the post and getting into foul trouble by being a bit careless, he’s still performing relatively well. With nine of Portland’s next 10 games at home, don’t be surprised to see Nurkic feeding off of the energy in the Moda Center and breaking out of his mini-slump. If we’re still having this conversation in mid-November, then it may be time to worry, but until then, his issues seem correctable and par for the course for a young center oozing with potential.
Thanks for your question, Parker. You can send your own Mailbag question to email@example.com!