The Portland Trail Blazers are enjoying a boost in play during the month of January. After an abysmal December which saw the squad post a 2-11 record, the Blazers are 5-4 so far in the new year.
Point guard Anfernee Simons has been a catalyst for the recent improvement, but in a recent article for The Oregonian, writer Aaron Fentress said another factor is deserving of credit: the renewed play of center Jusuf Nurkic.
After the first three months of the season were tampered by inconsistencies and frustrations about his role, Fentress wrote that Nurkic has resembled his “Bosnian Beast” form as of late. Since returning from health and safety protocols January 3 against the Atlanta Hawks, Nurkic has posted seven double-doubles in nine games. In a 98-88 win against the Orlando Magic on Monday, Nurkic put up a monster 21 point and 22 rebound performance.
He is in the middle of his best month of the season, averaging 16.4 points, 13.1 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game.
“I think I have one of the best seasons in my career,” Nurkic said. “Just because all the drama happened, and injuries and COVID, I think personally, percentage-wise and whatever-you-look-at wise, I think I’ve had one of my best seasons in Portland.”
Injuries have forced head coach Chauncey Billups to play through Nurkic much more during January. The change has come with more shot attempts for the big man and a newfound chemistry with the blossoming Simons.
Simons, starting in place of Lillard, has rapidly developed a rapport with Nurkic in pick-and-roll sets. Nurkic is averaging 14 shot attempts this month, compared with 10.5 last month.
While his stats have been superb, Nurkic’s surging confidence and nightly effort is catching the attention of his first-year head coach.
What Billups likes most is how active and physical Nurkic has been near the basket.
“I like nothing more than when he crashes and gets rebounds, the ball finds its way back to him so he can score,” Billups said. “But I just love the effort and enthusiasm that he’s playing with, whether he’s getting the basketball or not. It doesn’t change. He doesn’t waver in his approach and his effort every single night.”