There are now two “signature moves” from the Portland Trail Blazers profiled over the last couple of weeks: Damian Lillard’s step-back fadeaway along with CJ McCollum’s floater—and now it’s on to what is quickly becoming one of my absolute favorites: Jusuf Nurkic’s hook shot. It’s a sexy move. There. I said it.
I love everything about Jusuf Nurkic’s hook shot. If you’ve caught the podcast with Tara Bowen-Biggs and I or watched Blazers Outsiders, you probably know that I love post play. The footwork, the chess match, move-counter-move, strength, physicality, grace, power: it’s all on display in this tight little box. When it all comes together—particularly when it’s a 7-foot 290-pound monster moving on his toes like a grizzly bear doing ballet—it’s one of the most amazing physical feats out there and Nurkic does it better than almost anyone else right now. While the death of the traditional big man has been heralded time and time again, Nurkic is trying to fight it by bringing the sexy back to the post with an absolutely fantastic hook shot.
A little background here: Nurkic is second only to Nikola Vucevic in the number of hook shots taken this year, and though there is quite a gap between the two players in terms of numbers, Nurkic is still somehow able to get to his spot and take the shot effectively and efficiently. That’s pretty much the definition of a signature shot: a player has it in his bag and it’s so good that even when an opponent knows it’s coming, they still can’t do much to stop, alter, and/or effect it.
If you want to point to the area where Jusuf Nurkic has grown the most in his short time in Portland, it’s on the initial catch—whether it’s in the pick and roll or if it’s on a straight post up. More often than not, he’s calm and collected: reading the defense, assessing weaknesses, and looking for cutters before going into attack mode.
With each game Nurkic seemingly gets more decisive, and like a real life Terminator, he takes each new opportunity and uses previous information—machine learning style—and applies it to his next engagement. While he can short circuit from time to time and fall victim to strategies that have failed in the past (shout out to push shots), he’s now much more advanced than the first-run model.
If you’re looking for that specific point of growth, it’s the addition of a left hand. While he doesn’t go to it nearly as often as the right, his ability to not only finish consistently with the left hand around the rim but also utilize the left with a baby hook is the perfect example of targeted growth.
What is becoming increasingly obvious is that Nurkic can hit the hook shot from anywhere inside 8 feet. He doesn’t need to get to the middle (although it looks like he wants to get there), take a few steps to get momentum, or get to a certain spot with it to be effective. He simply bumps the opposition, knocks the him off balance, puts his shoulder in their chest (if the bump wasn’t enough), then elevates while also dipping the shoulder closest to the rim, and finishes over the top with the softest of touch.
When you see the high volume hook shot takers, a couple things stand out: 1) Vucevic LOVES the hook; 2) Nurkic is incredibly effective/efficient, especially when you factor in the volume; and 3) outside of Nikola Jokic, none of the volume guys have more unassisted shots than Nurkic.
That means that this is truly Nurkic’s go-to move. When it’s just him on the block or in the paint and he needs a shot: it’s going to be a hook shot. Whether it’s from a series of pump fakes, up and unders, step-throughs, or just straight bully ball—Nurkic is going to go to the hook. Of course, the next evolution here is what Nurkic does for his next act. Can he hone the hook to be truly dominant? Does he develop a counter-move or different setup? I’ve seen enough growth in him to believe there’s still more to come.