Portland Trail Blazers center Jusuf Nurkic turned in a historic statistical performance in Portland’s stirring victory over the upstart Sacramento Kings last night. It was the kind of game that gets hearts beating faster and Mailbag questions flying. Including this one!
How amazing that Nurk did something that’s never happened before in the NBA! How good is he going to be? We’re not talking about Damian Lillard, who does amazing things every night. Did Nurk just launch into real stardom? Talk me out of my happy balloon if you must but also put some air in it if you can!
That performance was one for the ages. The conditions were right for it. The Kings have two dominant modes: fast break and shoot threes. Failing that, they like to get wings into the mid-range. Few, if any, of those options drew Nurkic into the play. Instead he got to vacuum up everything that was left: driving attempts by shaky finishers, Willy Cauley-Stein shots, and tons of rebounds off of misses. Left solidly on his feet in his wheelhouse, Nurkic delivered like a fleet of Amazon vans. Rebounds, blocks, steals...scoring 20+ on the other end was almost icing on the cake.
Here was my immediate reaction after taking in the performance:
I loved that Nurkic's performance tonight was epic, but not flashy. He got in good position and executed. He wasn't Superman, but bedrock.— David Deckard (@DaveDeckard) January 2, 2019
I stand by that, even in morning’s cold light. Nurkic isn’t capable of setting all-time NBA records every outing, but when he can play to his strengths, he can be the foundation piece of any lineup.
The big questions come when he’s not allowed to stay home, or when the rim gets threatened by higher-caliber players. The list of things Nurkic didn’t have to do versus quick-shooting, no-ball-entering Sacramento was significant. He didn’t have to show to the arc and recover, nor deal with heavy doses of effective screening. He didn’t have to move side to side that much, even. He didn’t have to directly defend an offensive threat in the post or anyone who could shoot well enough to pull him out of the middle. His three-part job description read: “Rebound, intercept layups, and don’t let Cauley-Stein dunk.” Fulfilling that job description left him plenty of time to be active in every inside play and every rebound. Welcome to your 20-20-5-5-5-5-5-5-5-5-5-5-5-5-5. (The extra fives are the high ones from teammates, coaches, and fans after the game.)
Will Nurkic be able to go into Bosnian Beast Mode when he has to take on greater responsibility? He’s certainly not going to deliver a 5x5 every night, but can he catch even a glimpse?
If I had to guess, I’d say other teams aren’t too worried yet. To the extent they’re capable, they’re going to make sure Nurk’s plate is loaded. Opponents with skilled post players will make him defend one-on-one, trying to draw fouls and forcing somebody else to mop up rebounds. Teams with multi-threat guards will pull him into screen defense. Shooting bigs will spot up away from the basket; mid-range threats will throw cross screens underneath or pick and pop.
At that point, it’s going to depend on Nurkic’s concentration and determination. How willing is he to move quickly and consistently, and does he have the stamina to do so? Also important: was he as much in love with the 20 rebounds, 5 blocks, and 5 steals against Sacramento as he usually is with the 20 points? Historically Nurkic has been driven by touches. Those won’t happen every night, but there’s always room for good defense and great rebounding. Is that enough to motivate him?
There’s wiggle room for Nurkic to affect the game more than he does currently. He’s been rising slowly, like water approaching a boil. The Sacramento game may be a spur to push him over the boiling point, or this could be a gaudy spike amid turnover-filled tepidity. Reality will probably lie somewhere in the middle, with Nurkic continuing to show flashes of greatness amid generally good play, but still searching to see where he fits in and ultimately how good he can be.
Why not commemorate this event by purchasing 20 or 5 tickets to help us send over 2000 kids who otherwise can’t see Blazers games in person to watch Portland take on the Brooklyn Nets on March 25th? Here’s how!
To donate tickets to kids for Blazer’s Edge Night against the Nets on 3/25/19:
Click this link or copy/paste into your address bar: https://rosequarter.com/groupnights/
Enter the Promo Code: BLAZERSEDGE
Go through the purchase process just as if you were buying tickets for yourself.
If you order through this link with this code, tickets will be automatically donated and designated at Will Call with your order. No need to do anything else, it’s just that easy!
If you run into difficulty or wish to donate more tickets than the online service will allow, contact our Ticket Representative, Alec Botts, at 503.963.3926.