I’m not sure how you spent your Monday night, but Jusuf Nurkic spent his pouring in 5 of 7 three-pointers against the Charlotte Hornets, setting a career-high for long-distance makes while pouring in 28 points to help secure victory for his struggling team. In the wake of that performance, with a little help from Blazers broadcasters, Nurkic is being heralded as a legitimate shooter and his threat as part of the ever-evolving offensive platform of the franchise. A Blazer’s Edge reader has responded with this question for the Mailbag, which we’ll address today.
Nurk is shooting threes! The team is making a big deal out of it too. How much of a sure thing is it and do you think this makes a big difference? Taking your answer off air.
Not only is Jusuf Nurkic shooting threes, he is hitting threes at a 46.4% rate. He’s attempting just shy of two per game, which is about twice as many as he usually takes. Sharpshooter Nurk has arrived.
As far as being a sure thing and sustainable...oy.
Those sparkly numbers represent 56 attempts so far this season. That’s exactly as many as he attempted all of last year, when he shot 26.8%. The improvement is remarkable, but the sample size is small. Lots of stuff can happen over 56 shots. That incredibly high percentage—Nurk is blowing away Steph Curry, who shoots a paltry 43.4% by comparison—is probably one of them.
Will Nurkic be better at shooting threes this year? He better be, given that start. Will he be all-league at it? Doubtful.
Remember, Nurk has shown flashes of brilliance in many areas. He seldom sustains them.
That said, his form is much better than it was. He’s clearly worked on that shot. He’s fluid and he doesn’t hesitate, two other sure marks of comfort and improvement. Even at this early stage, it looks like the three could be a viable part of Nurkic’s portfolio now.
The ultimate significance of this development will depend on what the Blazers need. Damian Lillard and Anfernee Simons are legitimate three-point threats. They rival the best backcourts in the league in that category.
After 189 total attempts, Jerami Grant ranks fourth in the NBA in three-point percentage at 45.0%.
Among Portland’s starters, only Josh Hart lags behind. He’s shooting 34.9% beyond the arc, right at his career average but below his 37.3% mark with the Blazers over 13 games last year. Hart is attempting only 2.0 threes per game this year, against 6.4 in Portland a season before. The three is a smaller part of his job description than normal. But that’s still roughly equal to the 1.9 attempts Nurkic gets.
That should tell you something about the relative importance of the shot. At his peak, with his best form ever, Nurkic’s three-pointers have roughly the same scoreboard effect as a middling Hart’s do. That’s ok, but not critical.
Yes, Nurkic might pull the opposing center out of the lane with the shooting threat, but he’s only hitting long-distance shots now because they’re so wide open. As soon as he gets pressured, odds are those shots are going to start missing again. It won’t take much pressure either. It’s not likely that Nurkic’s threes will become something opposing coaches circle on their whiteboard.
It’s helpful that Nurkic cannot be left alone at the arc. His rebounding, defense, offensive put-backs, and playmaking ability are all more important to the Blazers overall. The three-point shooting is more than a gimmick, less than essential.
The good news about that is, Nurkic’s percentages can drop and that assertion can remain true. If he falls below 30% again, things will change, but chances are both he and the Blazers would pull the plug on those shots before he drove the percentage that low. If he stays somewhere north of 33%, he’s going to remain enough of a threat to keep defenses honest at a fifth position where before they only had to worry about four. That’s plenty good enough for Portland’s needs right now.
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