The Portland Trail Blazers’ defensive improvement has been aided by Jusuf Nurkic holding down the middle and Al-Farouq Aminu staying with more mobile big men. While Blazer fans can debate their roles on offense, one thing is clear: the Blazers’ defensive identity runs through both of these players. Aminu’s ability to play small ball and Nurkic’s presence in the paint has allowed Portland to hold opponents to 103.3 points per game, fifth best in the league.
As awards season approaches, Defensive Player of the Year will be contested by players like Rudy Gobert, Jimmy Butler and Joel Embiid. Injuries to key stars has been an issue for most teams, but it’s also allowed other players to get notice for their defensive skills.
In a recent article by Kelvin Pelton of ESPN, both Aminu and Nurkic receive recognition for their defensive presences, earning honorable mentions for NBA All-Defense teams this year. Most of the praise was given to Nurkic, whom Kelton has on his DPOY ballot.
”Nurkic earned the third spot on my Defensive Player of the Year ballot by improving his rim protection this season; he ranked fifth in the aforementioned group, not far behind Embiid.”
Leading the way for First Team All-Defense, Pelton has PG Dejounte Murry (Spurs), SG Andre Roberson (Thunder), SF Robert Covington (76ers), PF Draymond Green (Warriors) and C Rudy Gobert (Jazz).
You can read the rest of Pelton’s list and DPOY candidates here.
Editor’s note: Thank you to Blazer’s Edge contributor Kody Tarbell for this write-up.