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Neil Olshey, Jusuf Nurkic, and the Pursuit of Playoffs

Ian Thomsen walks through the impact of Jusuf Nurkic with Blazers President of Basketball Operations Neil Olshey.


Jusuf Nurkic has not only changed the complexion of the Trail Blazers’ 2016-17 NBA season, but perhaps their future trajectory as well. Although presently injured, the 22-year-old center has made huge leaps in Portland, making his teammates better along the way. contributor Ian Thomsen goes in-depth with Trail Blazers President of Basketball Operations Neil Olshey to unpack what Nurkic means to this team statistically, personally, and professionally, in this nearly 4,000-word feature. Excerpt below.

In his ground-floor office, backed by a picture window facing out to the two practice courts, Olshey considered an analytics printout that had been updated for him that morning. It showed how Portland’s efficiency had been overhauled by the trade for Nurkic.

“With Noah, that’s a 20-points-per-100-possessions shift for the starting power forward,” said Olshey as his players practiced on the other side of the window. “We are 20 points better per 100 possessions with Noah Vonleh on the floor now than we were when he was playing with Plumlee.”

Overall Portland’s offensive rating had risen from No. 13 in the NBA to No. 3 since the All-Star Break, and its defensive rating had vaulted from No. 26 to No. 10 around the domineering paint presence of Nurkic. Only the Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs had maintained a better ratings differential over the last five weeks.

The impact of the new center on the Blazers was obvious. And then, too, there was the equally helpful influence that had been experienced by Nurkic, whose rating in Denver had been minus-10.3 points. In 19 games thus far with Portland, Nurkic’s own rating had risen to 7.6 -- a net gain of 17.9 points per 100 possessions.

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