The dust has settled from the Trial Blazers’ exit from postseason competition. Free agency, roster construction and the NBA Draft have crept into everyday conversation in Rip City. Before we turn the page on the longest season in the Blazers’ 50-year history, let’s take another look at the players that populated the roster during that journey.
Our most-recent installment looked at how Trevor Ariza meshed with Portland’s roster in a short amount of time. Today’s post looks at the much-anticipated return of Jusuf Nurkic.
Games: 8 (8 starts) | PTS: 17.6 | REB: 10.3 | AST: 4.0 | BLK: 2.0
Jusuf Nurkic’s longer-than-expected absence (due to the NBA’s hiatus) from the Blazers’ rotation finally came to a close inside the NBA’s Orlando-based bubble. Over a year removed from competitive action, Nurkic hit the ground running when Portland needed him the most. During his eight-game debut in the seeding process, Nurkic flirted with a triple-double twice and notched 30 points in a tightly-contested matchup against the Celtics.
In the postseason, while featured in a make-shift lineup alongside fellow center Hassan Whiteside, Nurkic showed off his defensive versatility. No longer tasked with dropping to the rim on defense, the Bosnian big fella adequately rotated into space and slowed the progress of perimeter players. Was it flawlessly executed every time? No. But when you consider that it was against a Lakers lineup that featured two premier offensive options, Nurkic’s efforts were noteworthy.
Offensively, Nurkic’s three-point shooting is a work in progress, but it is showing just that: progress. Inside the bubble, the former Nuggets pivot connected on five of his 21 attempts from distance. Despite modest returns, Nurkic looked comfortable in pick-and-pop situations and garnered attention from opposing defenses. Outside of his own scoring, Nurkic’s court vision added a much-needed element to the Blazers’ scheme. Working from the high post or on the block, he routinely kept the ball moving and rewarded his teammates for moving with purpose off the ball. In the postseason, against well-rested lengthy defenders, Nurkic averaged 3.6 assists per game.
Regardless of the Blazers’ brief five-game postseason run, Nurkic’s return to the lineup should be viewed as an overwhelming success. He looked comfortable on both ends of the floor and was a seamless fit inside Portland’s re-tooled roster. Next season, Nurkic is positioned to expand his game even further. That process could accelerate if Zach Collins returns to full strength or the Blazers land a complementary frontcourt player in the offseason.