After a disastrous month of basketball for Portland, Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer is still giving NBA fans a reason to tune in for Trail Blazers games. O’Connor has compiled a list of the 15 most important Western Conference players for the rest of the season, a list that includes newly acquired Jusuf Nurkic.
O’Connor makes it clear that he has always been a fan of the lumbering Bosnian, and goes on to make a convincing case for his inclusion on the list.
After Nurkic’s Blazers debut, head coach Terry Stotts remarked, “He’s 22 years old. His game is not refined or defined yet.” That’s a fact. Nurkic is a guy I loved entering the 2014 draft; I had him ranked higher than the consensus and endorsed draft analyst Dean Demakis’s nickname for Nurkic: “the Bosnian Boogie.” It’s an apt comparison; Nurkic’s tenacity, bruising interior style, and negative body language was so reminiscent of Cousins.
A DeMarcus Cousins comparison alone is reason to monitor Nurkic’s game, but the developmental question marks are perhaps more intriguing still. O’Connor further elaborates on what makes Nurkic worth observing in the final third of the season.
But Nurkic’s development has come slowly in the NBA. I’d go as far as to say he hasn’t improved much at all since he was drafted; fouls are still an issue, his shot hasn’t progressed, and his effort still comes and goes. Still, maybe a change of scenery is all Nurkic will need to elevate his play. Playing overseas, Nurkic showed flashes of being able to hedge pick-and-rolls and pressure a ball handler. In the NBA, he’s getting smoked. Maybe the talent level is too high for Nurkic to stand a chance, but his potential is still there. If the Blazers coaches can turn the Bosnian into the player that he can be, they’ll have the two-way interior presence the team lacks.
Through four games, Nurkic has secured a spot in the starting lineup, but the Blazers have achieved victory only once in that span. How the 22-year-old adjusts to an enhanced role will dictate how Portland approaches decisions in the next several months, making him a crucial figure to follow as the regular season comes to a close.