Although Trail Blazers center Jusuf Nurkic will be out for at least two weeks with a Fibular fracture, Nurkic Fever has seemingly reached its zenith. The Bosnian big man, acquired from the Denver Nuggets on February 13, made the most of his first month and a half in Portland. Over his first 20 games in a Trail Blazer uniform, Nurkic averaged 15.2 points and 10.4 rebounds per game in just over 29 minutes per contest, up from 8.0 points and 5.8 rebounds per game in 45 games this season with the Nuggets, where he averaged just under 18 minutes per game.
But Nurkic has done far more for the franchise than just put up impressive numbers, he has injected life into a team that seemed all but doomed to miss the playoffs. Since his arrival, the Blazers are 14-6, and currently hold a 2-game lead over the Nuggets for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
Scott Rafferty of Sporting News reviews what Nurkic has added to the team:
It basically boils down to Nurkic being able to do everything Plumlee can, only better. He’s a threat to score in the the post and pick-and-roll, he’s a better playmaker than anyone expected and he can knock down a shot from outside the paint if he’s left open. Put that alongside two of the best backcourt scorers in the NBA, and it’s no wonder the Blazers have taken a leap following the trade deadline. The question now becomes whether this is a honeymoon period for Nurkic or if this is the start of something special.
Rafferty praised Nurkic’s all-around game, while also pointing out that going into Thursday’s matchup with the Houston Rockets, the Blazers were +86 in his 522 minutes of action, compared to Mason Plumlee’s +19 in over 1,500 minutes logged with the team.
Numbers aside, Nurkic’s presence seems to have changed the whole attitude of the team. The same group that had its effort questioned on multiple occasions this season now plays with the edge of a team that expects to win. Keep in mind that Portland also received a first round pick in the deal for Mason Plumlee. Assuming Nurkic can continue his success upon returning to health, it could be a deal that haunts the Nuggets for years to come.