The Blazer’s Edge Mailbag covers all your questions about the Portland Trail Blazers, but guess what questions have been coming fast and furious in the last week? Go on, guess! Apparently you’re not tired of talk about Jusuf Nurkić yet, so neither will we be. Here you go!
Caught you on air with Chad. [ed. Chad Doing of Rip City Radio 620 in Portland] First your voice sounds way different on radio. Second you guys were all over Nurkic Fever. Are you worried that its too much too soon? You’re usually way more reserved. I want to believe but then I think its only been a few games. Is there a small sample crash coming or is it going to stay atmosphere all the way for Nurkic?
My voice likely sounded better because I joined Chad in studio instead of over the phone. The microphone quality is slightly better in a professional radio setting. Go figure. I love in-studio stuff too, so my enthusiasm may have been leaking through.
And speaking of enthusiasm, that interview was last Friday, the day after Nurkić went for 28, 20, 8, and 6. Radio isn’t the spot for intricate nuances under ordinary circumstances. The afternoon after a guy busts out a career-dwarfing game to lead his team to victory is not the time to hold back. I mentioned the caveats briefly on-air, but that whole day was properly about Nurkić’s fantastic accomplishments, not about worry. How many opportunities like that do you get? We weren’t going to waste it.
Besides, I don’t believe there’s “too much, too soon” in this circumstance. I get what you’re saying. I’ve said the same. The current hype may exceed the final product with Nurkić. Three years from now he may not be spouting a PER the size of the national debt, but that doesn’t dim his current production. The Blazers haven’t given their fans that much else to hold onto this year. This is real. Grab it and run!
I don’t believe you have to worry about Nurkić’s skills deteriorating over the years. As many have pointed out, “he’s only 22”. As time passes you will see other teams take advantage of his weaknesses in ways they aren’t now. But hey, that’s one more center than opponents have had to game plan for up to this point. At least they’ll have to work against him; he won’t be ignored.
You’ll probably also see Nurkić’s contributions become slightly less central and revolutionary than they appear at this point. He’s at an all-you-can-eat buffet right now, fouls and fatigue providing the only limiting factors on his ability to contribute. This has happened not just because of his talent, but because team expectations are still modest; wins and losses remain largely immaterial in the grand scope. Nurkić isn’t accompanied by anyone in the frontcourt that can’t be brushed aside. The scoring is thin. If Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum don’t take touches from him, nobody can.
Portland’s needs at the center position are so broad that even fulfilling four of them looks like a miracle. Hopefully that won’t always remain true. Nurkić won’t become less of a player. His ability may even grow. But demands will grow too. When the challenge evolves beyond blessedly welcome production—when fitting in and consistent winning join the expectation package—his value will be gauged anew. If the Blazers are still a sub-.500 team three years from now with Nurkić playing under a shiny, new eight-figure contract, whatever fever he produces won’t be enough to overcome the general stomachache. Those pains may not be targeted at him, but neither would he be considered the definitive answer to what ails the team the way he’s being touted now.
In short, Nurkić likely looks better now than he will long-term but who cares? It’s not three years from now; it’s today. Making too much of mediocrity is a mistake but Nurkić’s play for the Trail Blazers has been well above mediocre so far and his flaws aren’t hurting a thing yet. What more could you ask?
Are you concerned that Nurk Fever symptoms could include: complacency or don't-need-to-get-in-better-shape-itis for the already exalted Nurkic One.
Nobody can predict the future but I’m not unduly worried.
As long as Nurkić keeps getting minutes, he’ll probably stay in good enough shape to play through them. He’s starting to show more energy in the latter stages of the game. He’ll grow into his role. If he gets benched or superseded, motivation may become an issue here like it was with the Denver Nuggets. At this rate, that won’t happen.
There’s also the matter of Nurkić’s contract. He’s still on a rookie scale deal. He won’t be up for re-negotiation until 2018. If I were his agent I’d be whispering in his ear right now: “If you keep anywhere near this pace you’re going to be comfortable for the rest of your life. If at any point we can discern a six-pack with your shirt off, you’ll become a billionaire.” That should keep the lid on any Krispy Kreme binges for a while.
That said, I’m not in favor of monkeying with a guy’s style or body type too much. Nurkić plays the way he does because Nurkić is BIG. Core strength and conditioning can always improve but Natural Nurk is going to work better than any attempt at imitating a genetic super-soldier.
Some have whispered about weight and injury, especially since staying power for Portland centers resembles that of your average George R. R. Martin character. Again, I’m not that worried. Looking back on Portland’s long and resplendent history of injured centers, how many of them were out of shape or overweight? Bill Walton, Sam Bowie, and Greg Oden were all fit. Modern centers break down because they move too fast, jump too high, and put inordinate stress on their bodies at young ages. Nurkić plays hard but his game is ground bound and near the rim. The guy can walk off half of any given possession on either end. Extra body weight is never great for the joints but he should be less susceptible to its effects than, say, Karl-Anthony Towns or DeMarcus Cousins would be.
It is hard not to get swept up in Nurkic fever. If he can keep up with close to this level of play it seems like Portland has found a starting center.
Seemingly, the weak link in the starting lineup is the four position. What kind of power forward would be an ideal fit to play alongside Nurkic. I would add that that player is probably not on the roster.
Yesterday Peter Sampson argued that Noah Vonleh is looking better and better in that position. I won’t go so far as to champion Vonleh, but I will argue that Nurkić’s skill set narrows down the power forward job description more than Mason Plumlee’s did.
Were I to design the ideal power forward to play alongside Nurk, I’d make him tall and rangy with a long wingspan. When Nurkić defends the middle I want my power forward to be able to close out on shooters or dip in from the side to harry a screened dribbler then recover to the outside quickly. If Nurkić has to leave his post to shut off penetration I want my power forward to be able to swoop in for the recovery help-block. On offense I want him to have a reliable face-up jumper from the side plus court smarts and passing ability. If he eventually develops a side three-pointer, great.
Rasheed Wallace would be the ultra-ideal power forward accompaniment for Nurkić. If I could resurrect a player to fit alongside the current staff, it’d be hard to think of one more naturally suited. Take that ideal and bend as needed to match with one of today’s players or draftees.
As you’re pondering that, keep those questions coming to firstname.lastname@example.org! Always great to hear from you on non-Nurkić topics too!
—Dave email@example.com / @Blazersedge / @DaveDeckard