ESPN analyst Zach Lowe has been a little quiet about the Portland Trail Blazers amidst an 18-17 start to the season, but in this week’s “10 Things” column [subscription required], Lowe offers praise for Portland Trail Blazers center Jusuf Nurkic.
Nurkic is averaging 14.8 points and 9.9 rebounds per game for the Blazers over 30 appearances this season, shooting 54.1% from the field and 46.1% from the three-point arc. Despite those glitzy shooting numbers, pundits and fans have been mixed in their reaction to the 6’11 pivot. He doesn’t do enough of any one thing to stand out. But that may be the exact reason he’s sneaky-valuable to the Blazers, according to Lowe.
It’s tempting to label Nurkic a dinosaur. He’s not elite at any one thing that modern centers are supposed to do. He’s not a screen-and-dunk guy, or rangy pick-and-pop threat. He’s not a pogo-stick rim protector. He doesn’t really switch, either. He has never been a great post-up option. He’s a good passer, but not someone who can run your offense. He is Average Starting Center Guy.
But average starting centers are good, and Nurkic has stretched his old-school skill set about as far as it can go toward modernity. Nurkic is 26-of-56 (46%) from deep after canning 32 combined triples in eight prior seasons. The Blazers sometimes stash Nurkic in the corners so Jerami Grant can screen for Damian Lillard and Anfernee Simons. Nurkic is even coaxing some bumbling close-outs, and loping past defenders with burly drives that teeter on the edge of capsizing — and yet mostly work out!
Whether the Blazers would be better off with a center possessing a more targeted skill set is up to debate, but for now, Lowe argues, Portlanders should appreciate the player they have.