The Portland Trail Blazers have assured themselves of a spot in the 2018 NBA Playoffs with a 48-30 record, good for 3rd in the Western Conference. When they hit the first round two weeks from now, center Jusuf Nurkic will be expected to carry his share of the load. His talent, position, and contract status all mandate a good post-season performance, else the consequences could be dramatic for the 23-year-old center.
Ben Golliver of SI.com illustrated this point, placing Nurkic among five prominent players facing serious pressure in the 2018 playoffs. Golliver explains:
Portland’s Jusuf Nurkic enters the playoffs amid a [perfect] storm of narratives. The restricted-free-agent-to-be seeks redemption—for an ill-timed injury that kept him from contributing significantly during a 2017 first-round exit—and the first major payday of his career. As a traditional 7-foot center who plies his trade in the West, he must also be prepared for both the small-ball style that tends to dominate the playoffs and a host of talented centers.
Golliver elaborates, illustrating the challenges facing pivots in the modern NBA:
Problems could arise for Nurkic, who has vacillated between punishing play and frustrating passivity, on both stylistic fronts. Against the likes of Adams and Gobert, he must avoid playing smaller than his size around the basket—a common lament among Blazermaniacs. Against Towns, Davis and the Warriors’ bigs, he must be prepared to defend in space out to the arc. When opponents stay big, he must play physically while avoiding foul trouble, as Portland’s other frontcourt options are largely finesse-oriented. When opponents go small, he must be mentally prepared to ride the pine for match-up purposes, something that’s been a major point of contention in the past.
That said, Nurkic has found a way to contribute through these challenges, and looks poised to help the Blazers march forward.
A terrible defender earlier in his career, Nurkic has cut down on his egregious fouls and made strides when it comes to positioning. Off-season conditioning work and the largest offensive role of his career have helped with his overall engagement and effort too.
Golliver has much more on Nurkic, via statistics and analysis. Plus he explores the prospects of Kyle Lowry, John Wall, Draymond Green, and Paul George, in whose company Nurkic resides.
Do you see pressure falling on Nurkic’s shoulders, or do other players carry more weight in Portland’s eventual success or failure?