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Pelton Breaks Down Impact of Losing Jusuf Nurkic

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ESPN’s Kevin Pelton discusses how the Trail Blazers can best compensate for the loss of their starting center.

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Toronto Raptors Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

ESPN’s Kevin Pelton recently broke down how the Trail Blazers can respond to Jusuf Nurkic’s injury in an article for ESPN+. Pelton notes that Enes Kanter, Portland’s backup center, may not be a perfect fit to replace Nurkic:

Kanter has been typically productive in 15 games for Portland, averaging 20.3 points and 13.6 rebounds per 36 minutes while shooting 54 percent from the field. In a starting role, however, Kanter’s defensive shortcomings could be highlighted. He has never started regularly for a playoff-bound team, coming off the bench as a rookie with the Utah Jazz and during his two full seasons with the Oklahoma City Thunder.

In particular, Kanter struggles to defend the pick-and-roll. According to Second Spectrum tracking, opponents have averaged 1.08 points per chance when Kanter is defending the screener in a pick-and-roll, highest of any Blazers player who has defended at least 250 such plays. By contrast, opponents averaged just 0.86 points per chance when Nurkic defended the screener.

Pelton also looks at Portland’s chances of hanging onto home-court advantage:

If the Blazers stumble, that could open the door for the Jazz to grab the No. 4 seed and home court in the opening round. Before accounting for Nurkic’s injury, FiveThirtyEight’s projections had Utah -- currently 2.5 games back in the standings -- finishing just a win behind Portland on average by virtue of a relatively easy final 10 games.

For the full article, head over to ESPN via this link (ESPN+ required).