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Mom’s Favorite: Remembering a Great Season by Jusuf Nurkic

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Team Mom’s column is all about Jusuf Nurkic today, and how we must remember how well he played and not let the injury define his season.

Portland Trail Blazers v Washington Wizards Photo by Will Newton/Getty Images

Each week, Team Mom highlights her favorites plays, players and other things that made the Trail Blazers fun to watch. Who is Mom’s Favorite this week? Did anyone get put in the dog house? What were your favorite things this week? Let us know in the comments below.

Week 24, March 24-30. Brooklyn Nets (W), Chicago Bulls (W), Atlanta Hawks (W), Detroit Pistons (L)

I haven’t stopped thinking about Jusuf Nurkic since he went down on Monday night. As I watched him lie on the court, broken, pounding the floor in so much pain, his season over, the team’s standing in peril, I wanted desperately to tell him something that would make him feel better. Of course, there were no words.

I kept thinking, “I see what you did this year. This injury will not define you.” Nurkic was everything the Trail Blazers needed this season. A defensive anchor, a willing play maker, someone who got other guys involved, who stood up for his teammates, and who got hit in the head on the nightly basis and somehow got stronger with every blow.

While me may worry about the Trail Blazers chances in the playoffs now that Nurkic is out, we cannot forget that the Blazers probably wouldn’t be where they are without him.

I’ll admit, my belief in Nurkic was slow to develop. When he was first traded to Portland I was more excited about the draft pick. When he took the town by storm and Nurk Fever broke out, I just couldn’t buy in. With his emotional departure from Denver, he brought so much baggage. He seemed to be operating on adrenaline. I believed that he could grow, but I just did not think he was there yet.

When he came back in 2017-18, I was cautiously optimistic. I could see that it was a big deal that he was big. He took up a lot of space and that changed the way teams game planned against Portland. But his scoring average, rebounds and assist per game all went down. His trips to the line fell. It seemed like Nurk Fever was more of a seasonal allergy.

That season he was a solid, dependable center. A role player. I just didn’t see him as a star. What would make me think that he had that magic quality that everyone else already saw? I said over and over again: I would believe he was a star when he showed he could put the team on his back.

And this season, he did. There have been plenty of articles detailing how much of an impact he had on the team. We have seen the gaudy on/off numbers. We saw how running the offense through him resulted in the full bloom of Stotts’ flow offense that had been budding for so many seasons. Without Nurkic playing like he did, I firmly believe we would have had another season of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum playing hero ball down the stretch. But Nurkic stepped up, passed the ball around, hunted for open players, and proved that everyone could be an asset—not just a supporting cast member.

We must not let this injury define Jusuf Nurkic’s season. We must let him know that his success this year meant so much more.

Mom’s Favorite

This week for Mom’s Favorite I’m going to focus on Jusuf Nurkic’s passing and assists, which I thought were so much fun this year.

Nurkic was the Trail Blazers second most frequent passer this season, averaging 42.8 per game. He had the third most assists at 3.2, trailing only Damian Lillard and Evan Turner. It appeared that not only did the volume of his assists improve, but the quality of the passes leading to assists was better. His potential assists rose from 3.6 to 5.0 per game, and his actual assists went from 1.8 to 3.2. Another way to look at it is that one year ago, Nurkic’s teammates finished 50 percent of his potential assists, while this season, his teammates finished 64 percent of the time.

Now let’s get to the highlights. Specifically, the bounce passes. Bounce passes that cut right through the defenders are demoralizing to the opponent and invigorating for the team.

Gold Star

Jusuf Nurkic to Maurice Harkless As the season progressed it appeared a connection had developed on the court between Nurkic and Harkless. The season average +/- for the two man lineup of Nurkic and Harkless was 4.7. It grew from -1.6 in October to 7.1 in March. The passing game between the two of them grew as well, with Harkless becoming a more frequent target for Nurkic month over month.

This chart shows the number of passes and assists from Nurkic to Harkless per game. There was a small peak in December, but otherwise there has been steady growth from month to month leading to a peak of 3.5 passes and 1.1 assist per game.

Nurkic to Harkless passes and assists 2018-19

Month PASS AST
Month PASS AST
October 0.3 0
November 0.4 0.1
December 2.8 0.8
January 1.5 0.3
February 1.9 0.6
March 3.5 1.1
stats.nba.com Jusuf Nurkic Player Passing Dashboard

Only Damian Lillard assisted Maurice Harkless more than Jusuf Nurkic did. Here are some highlights of the Nurkic to Harkless connection:

Honorable Mention

Dunk highlights. Last week I noted that Jusuf Nurkic had matched the number of dunks he made last season (64). With several games to go I had hoped he could get to 75. Alas, he fell short, finishing with 68 made dunks. After his injury, it might take a while for him to get comfortable with dunking, if he ever does. Here are some of his best of the season, and let’s hope he has many more in years to come.

In an effort not to end this on a downer, here are some more highlights from Nurkic’s season.

Nurkic getting into the head of Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder in January:

Trolling Ben Simmons in February:

Nurkic recording the first 20 point 5x5 in NBA history:

Squeaking in a triple double vs the Cleveland Cavaliers:

Reflecting after a loss in December:

Dressed up for Halloween (with the assist from Evan Turner):

Evan Turner and Nurkic on a plane:

Nurkic is always happy to pose with fans. Here he is with a couple of Bosnian fans in Indiana.

Nurkic behind the lens:

More pre-game shenanigans, untying photographer Bruce Ely’s shoes

Hanging out with the Dames.

I hope that as he recovers he hits the ‘gram to give us regular updates. We love you big fella!

What are your favorite memories of Jusuf Nurkic from this season? What pictures, posts or stat lines did you love? Let us know in the comments below.