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Jusuf Nurkic Ready to Perform

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Jason Quick of The Athletic describes the center’s mindset and the new wrinkles he’s added to his game.

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers-Media Day Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Sports

With Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum performing at consistent levels over the last several seasons, many pundits expect the Blazers to fare as well as Jusuf Nurkic does. If he struggles, so will the team. If he reaches the next level, again, so will the Blazers.

Jason Quick of The Athletic spoke with Nurkic and offered some insight into where he’s at mentally, how he approached his summer, and yes, that 3-point shot:

In what has become one of the more distinguishable reveals of the Blazers’ 2018 preseason, Nurkic now has the green light to shoot 3-pointers in a game, which was on display Sunday in an exhibition loss to Utah.

Nurkic made both of his 3-point attempts – and made a two-pointer with his toe on the line – to highlight a night when he had 20 points, 11 rebounds, and five blocks in 24 minutes.

It is the byproduct, Nurkic says, of a “my greatest summer ever” in terms of work. Between playing with the Bosnia and Herzegovina National team and training on his own, he estimates he had no more than 10 days off this summer.

Despite his various struggles last season, Nurkic had a solid defensive year. Quick explores that:

As much as Nurkic’s 3-point shot is an intriguing wrinkle to his game, his defense remains his defining trait.

When he started playing basketball at age 14 in Bosnia, he said his coaches first stressed defense, a principle that remains ingrained. It is why upon his arrival in Portland he surveyed the team and immediately knew where to make his impact.

“When I came here, this team had a problem at the rim … and we were below in the NBA in defense,” Nurkic said. “And I know what I could do at the rim … I know I’m not going to block every shot and I’m not going to stop everybody, but I can make it tougher.”

With Nurkic for a full season, the Blazers went from 24th in defensive rating to 8th. They led the league in rim protection.

Do you see Nurkic taking the leap this season? For the full article, click here (subscription required).