Damian Lillard and CJ McCollums are the engines running the Portland Trail Blazers playoffs train, but Jusuf Nurkic may be critical in determining how far that train will go in 2018. That’s the message of writers Haley O’Shaughnessy and Paolo Uggetti of The Ringer in their article detailing the Most Important Players of the NBA’s Final Month.
The pair say this of Portland’s starting center:
Nurkic averaged nearly 30 minutes a game in the month of November and averaged 16.8 points, 7.9 rebounds, and 2.3 assists per game. Since then, Nurkic’s production had dropped, but his shooting efficiency has increased in a diminished role (in March, he’s averaging only 21 minutes a game). Where does Nurkic fit on a Blazers team that has shot up to third in the West? Zach Collins has been getting a lot more minutes recently and played well during that time. The Blazers know that Collins is their future, and they know that they’ll only go as far as Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum carry them. But finding the right role for Nurkic, and getting the free-agent-to-be to buy into it, might be just as important.
During Portland’s recent 8-game winning streak, Nurkic has averaged 24.4 minutes per game with 14.4 points, 9.9 rebounds, and a 51.5% shooting percentage from the field. Those exceed his season averages of 14.0 points, 8.4 rebounds, and 48.4% in 26.1 minutes per game.
The authors also cite Anthony Davis, James Harden, Kawhi Leonard, Nikola Jokic, and Giannis Antetokounmpo as pivotal, among others.