Mason Plumlee is a Denver Nugget. Jusuf Nurkic is a Portland Trail Blazer. The deal is done and the Portland faithful know what was given up, but may not yet be acquainted with their team’s newest addition. We were able to catch up with our friend and brilliant writer Adam Mares, site manager of denverstiffs.com, to learn more about what Nurkic brings to the table. Here is what he had to say about the Bosnian big man:
What are his strengths?
For being 7-feet, 280 lbs, Nurk is really light on his feet and mobile on the defensive end. He has the tools to be an elite rim protector and rebounder and has shown plenty of flashes of defensive dominance while here in Denver. He is unmovable when he carves out space on the block for post ups or offensive rebounds. He’s also a foul magnet and would routinely put opponents in foul trouble early in games when he was the starter.
Lastly, he has fairly soft touch on elbow jumpers and can make decent passes from the elbows. He’s not on Mason Plumlee’s level as a passer but he is above average for the position and should be pretty effective at finding Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum on cuts and flares.
What are his weaknesses?
Nurk rushes shots on post ups, put backs, and on rolls to the basket. It’s weird, but for a guy as big as he is and as physically as he plays on the defensive end, he tends to try his finesse game a bit too much on the offensive end. It’s a huge part of why his percentages are so low for a big guy, especially around the rim. He also has a turnover problem, usually stemming from over-dribbling on post ups. When he goes quickly into his post moves and uses one dribble to go up quick he is effective. When he uses six dribbles it almost always ends in an offensive foul or lost ball turnover.
But by far the biggest issues are his mental toughness and attitude. For as tough and as fearless as he appears on the court, Nurkic tends to wilt once things stop going his way. This can be true both over the course of a game and over the course of a season. Part of his demise in Denver was that he just quit trying once Nikola Jokic was given his spot in the starting lineup. It’s understandable that Nurkic would want more minutes and a bigger role given his age and upside, but the way he handled his demotion to the bench was as immature and uninspiring as I have ever seen. He may have to be coddled a bit by coach Terry Stotts early on, but it’s up to Nurkic to learn how to fight through adversity at a level that is required in order to succeed as a professional athlete.
What do you see as his ceiling?
Incredibly high, which is what makes his mental toughness so frustrating. Nurkic has the physical tools and much of the instincts to be a defensive monster. His nickname, the Bosnian Beast, perfectly suits him on the defensive end. I’ve seen him dominate Marc Gasol, DeMarcus Cousins, and other big name centers before. When he’s dialed in, he is fun to watch.
Offensively he has a bit further to go but his upside is fairly good on that end. He’s not a Roy Hibbert type with a really low ceiling. Nurk has a jumper and a handful of post moves that actually work but they’re just sprinkled in with a bunch of post moves that don’t. He has a long way to go but the upside is there.
What was his attitude like in Denver?
As I mentioned above, Nurkic’s attitude was really bad. He had an outburst in the hallways at Pepsi Center his rookie season when he was telling management that he did not want to participate in the rookie-sophomore game. He’s publicly complained about his playing time and moped up and down the court the last two months here in Denver. Then, just a few weeks ago, rumor had it that he left Pepsi Center at halftime during the Milwaukee Bucks game only to be dragged back to the arena by someone within the Nuggets organization and staff.
I don’t think Nurkic is a bad guy by any means and nobody on the team seemed to hate him. It came off to me as more of a maturity and mental toughness thing so Nurkic would get really down when things weren’t going his way and didn’t know how to handle himself. Perhaps with stronger leadership he can learn to overcome it. I have my doubts but his time in Portland will be very telling about who exactly he is as a person and competitor.
What do you think his future holds in Portland?
I think Nurkic will be rejuvenated by being on a new team and one that could desperately use his defense. I suspect he’ll show flashes of his potential over the course of the next two months and that will likely carry over into the new season next year. The real test will be how he handles adversity when and if it arrives. Will the return of Festus Ezeli create competition for playing time? Will Stotts be able to convince him to post up less and screen harder for Lillard and McCollum? Those will be the questions that may take a while to evaluate but in the short term, I suspect he’ll be good more often than bad with enough promise to keep Blazers fans engaged.
Mares also discussed the trade with Erik Gundersen on the Locked On Blazers Podcast. You can find that audio here.