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O’Connor: Nurkic & Portland Enjoying ‘Honeymoon’ Phase

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Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer grades Portland’s acquisition of thriving center Jusuf Nurkic.

NBA: Brooklyn Nets at Portland Trail Blazers Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports

The Trail Blazers’ addition of center Jusuf Nurkic has been a smash-hit for the fanbase and the team alike. The Nuggets castoff has provided his new squad with a much needed spark, and he is beginning to catch the attention of those outside of the Northwest media bubble.

Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer handed out some follow-up grades for trades that occurred prior to last month’s trade deadline, and Portland received a “B” for their acquisition of Nurkic from Denver.

O’Connor comments on Nurkic’s recent increase in tenacity, no longer stuck behind Nikola Jokic, noting that the visible on-court shift has borne out in the numbers as well.

The word “effort” was not part of Nurkic’s vocabulary during his time in Denver. But through six games with the Blazers, it seems he’s learned what it means. The 22-year-old center is playing with more vigor and determination than he ever before in the NBA.

It’s showing up statistically, too. Through six games, the Blazers have a 99.9 defensive rating when Nurkic is on the floor, a number that would lead all teams this season. The Blazers have had a bottom-four defense this season, so it’s a staggering about-face for Nurkic, one of the laziest big men in basketball, to make such a difference.

The Bosnian’s presence on the roster has helped Portland put a disastrous February behind them, which has resulted in a 4-3 record with Nurkic in the rotation. While it appears that more good times are on the way, O’Connor makes it a point to temper expectations surrounding the marriage of the Blazers and their big man.

Maybe this will just be a honeymoon for Nurkic and Portland. There may come a time when concentration turns to complacency, and energy turns to lethargy. Nurkic could be the key to supplanting the Nuggets from the 8-seed, but he’ll need to sustain his effort level for that to happen.

You can check out O’Connor’s complete list of grades here.