Jusuf Nurkic will be back in five days, barring any last minute setbacks! Nurk’s return is basically the light at the end of the tunnel that the awful 2019-20 season has become for the Trail Blazers. Let’s take a look at five reasons to be excited about seeing the Bosnian Beast on the court again.
Monster high-end effectiveness
When everything is going right for Nurkic, it’s no exaggeration to say he is an All-NBA caliber player who can literally swing a game by exerting his full impact. Need some convincing? I’ll let the video speak for itself:
Given that the Blazers bench is basically a D League All-star team and probably can’t be entirely rebuilt in one summer, having that kind of top-end talent will be fundamental to winning games next season. I can’t wait to see more Nurk Fever moments.
Nurkic is fun
This one’s personal preference, but I find Nurkic fun without being cringe-y. He’s not flexing while the team is down 20 points or trying to use unwritten rules to justify poor choices. He kicks @$$ and then lets you know about it. That’s fun and something this team sorely needs! Again, we’ll let the video do the talking:
Nurkic acted as a defensive anchor for the Blazers last season. Here’s Kevin Pelton to explain:
Stotts’ defensive scheme calls for the screener’s defender to drop back into the paint on pick-and-rolls, protecting the rim. The 7-foot Nurkic excelled in that scheme, using his size to intimidate in the paint. Per Second Spectrum tracking on NBA Advanced Stats, the 55.9 percent of shots inside 5 feet opponents have made with Nurkic as a primary defender ranks in the top 20 among players who have defended at least four such shots per game. Between New York and Portland, Kanter has allowed 64.8 percent shooting to opponents in the same situations. And coming to the Blazers’ scheme hasn’t helped: Opponents are shooting 71.4 percent against Kanter in Portland.
Bluntly, Whitside has been far from serviceable in that role. You could probably say disastrous. It’s gotten to the point that it’s unclear if such a defensive scheme is even feasible anymore.
Having Nurkic back for 15ish games to evaluate the viability of his role as a defensive backstop in light of league-wide stylistic changes will be invaluable when planning for next season.
The Blazers offense has been effective but painful to watch — No. 10 offensive rating but toward the bottom of the league in both player and ball movement.
Nurkic will help with that by adding another dimension to the offense. While he won’t do a lot to improve the Blazers poor shooting close to the basket, he is still a legitimate offensive threat in that range that can draw fouls. Combine that with an assist percentage that is nearly three times higher than current third option Carmelo Anthony (17.9 percent vs. 6.7 percent) and it’s easy to see how Nurkic’s mere presence will diversify the Blazers offense.
Presumably Nurkic is suiting up because he is 100 percent physically recovered from the broken leg. But that doesn’t mean his self-confidence is back to 100 percent yet. Given the standings, Nurk will have several relatively low-pressure games to get back into game shape both physically and mentally as the season winds down. If there are any lingering psychological hesitations hopefully the last month of the season will help him work through it so that he is fully ready to go both physically and mentally for training camp. Go get ‘em big fella!