With the conclusion of the Portland Trail Blazers’ preseason schedule on Friday, the countdown is on to the start of the 2021-22 NBA regular season. Blazer’s Edge will be running our season preview from now until the Blazers tip off the year against the Sacramento Kings next Wednesday. Today we look at the polarizing Portland big man who holds the key to some of the Blazers’ fortunes this season.
Jusuf Nurkic 2020-21 Stats
AGE: 27 | EXPERIENCE: 8 Seasons
CONTRACT: $12 million in 2021-22
11.5 points, 9 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 1.1 blocks and 1 steal in 23.8 minutes per game over 37 appearances
51.4% field goal percentage, 40% three-point percentage, 61.9% free throw percentage with 3.1 foul shots per game
Nurkic missed a 32-game stretch last season, initially because of a right wrist fracture and then a calf complaint.
Nurkic is this team’s starting center, but he needs to be more than just a run-of-the-mill five. He has the ability to open up all kinds of offensive possibilities for this team, setting up teammates and taking some of the facilitating load off Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. He also needs to be the defensive anchor who can steer clear of foul trouble in crucial games. He needs to be a key reason this team upgrades from the NBA’s second worst defense, to somewhere closer to the middle of the pack.
The Athletic’s Jason Quick wrote about Nurkic’s renewed love for the game and the Blazers through his initial conversations with Chauncey Billups. The article suggests Billups wishes to involve Nurkic more prominently on both sides of the ball.
During his introductory press conference last week, Nurkic confirmed this suggesting his role was going to be different under Billups with him.
What we’ve seen in preseason hasn’t necessarily given us great hope that things have changed but the big man deserves more time to properly adjust his game within Billups’ new systems.
Areas for Improvement
One of the main keys to the success of this Blazers season is whether Nurkic can improve across the board.
Does he have the chops to be the secondary facilitator he’s teased at for years? Can he become the rim protector/defensive stopper who can shut down players like Nikola Jokic without fouling in the playoffs? Can he stop flipping balls up to the rim, instead of using his seven foot, 300-pound frame to finish with conviction? Can he play more than 26 minutes a night without looking gassed? Can he improve his body language and, in doing so, become another leader to help guide this team, particularly when things aren’t going well? Can he stay fit?
Nurkic needs to deliver on the above, not only for this team, but for himself as he approaches unrestricted free agency at the end of this season.
This is a big season for Nurkic. It’s time to put up or shut up because if he doesn’t meet the minimum level of expectation this season, don’t be surprised if he is moved at the deadline. This team needs a center capable of executing on Nurkic’s potential, not just teasing it. He clearly wants to get paid next year after employing Klutch Sports as his representation but he needs to be able to perform to the level we all need him to.
Also See Our Previous Season Preview Posts: