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Jusuf Nurkic Needs More Post Touches

The Blazers big man is showing improvement down low. Should Portland look to use him more?

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Golden State Warriors Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Jusuf Nurkic is a solid post option and the Portland Trail Blazers should run the ball through him more.

That statement was ludicrous just 12 months ago. We all remember what it looked like early in the 2017-18 season when the Blazers tried to force multiple possessions through the Bosnain Beast on the block. He would rush, flip shots from below eye-level, there were even a few attempts I saw where I’m could swear he wasn’t even looking at the rim.

Terry Stotts recognized what we all were seeing and went away from using Nurkic in the post, opting for the always effective Lillard/Nurkic pick-and-roll for the second half of the season. It helped jump-start a stagnant Blazers offense and was a key factor in Portland’s spring run.

Through the early part of this season, it was more of the same; Nurkic running the pick-and-roll with Lillard, or facilitating from the top of the 3-point line. But something interesting has happened over the last few weeks; Nurkic has developed a couple of post moves. He’s no Hakeem Olajuwon, but they’re effective; and most importantly, they’re replicable. To me, it’s been one of the more exciting aspects of an up-and-down season for the team.

Nurkic has learned to take his time, feel his defender out, and move to the center of the paint for little baby hook. It’s simple, but it works. The other move we’re seeing more of over the last week or so is (in the absence of a double team) Nurkic using a spin move in either direction to get a clean layup.

It doesn’t sound overly impressive, but having the ability to utilize Nurkic’s hulking frame against smaller defenders is something that the Blazers weren’t previously able to exploit to much degree at all. Nurk struggles against athletic centers with large wingspans. it’s just who he is as a ground-bound throwback style center. But most teams don’t have an Anthony Davis, Joel Embiid, or Rudy Gobert. Nurkic outsizes the majority of centers in the league.

The Blazers need to continue to run the ball through Nurkic as often as possible. He shouldn’t supplant Lillard as the main option. He probably shouldn’t supplant CJ McCollum as option number two. But the ball (not to mention player movement) can stagnate in McCollum’s hands. When he’s on, it’s not a bad thing, but when CJ is having a rough shooting night, there’s not a whole lot of activity going on off the ball to make up for it.

The Blazers are never going to be the current Golden State Warriors, with constant player movement and 30 assists per night, but Portland does face stretches where the secondary guys tend to stagnate. Nurkic is as willing a facilitator from the block as he is at the top of the key.

Nurkic is still a work in progress, however. He struggles to catch the ball in traffic. He can force passes from down low. He’ll still occasionally rush his shot. But the progress is real, the benefits tangible. Terry Stotts should continue to make sure that the Blazers call Nurk’s number down consistently throughout the game.