There was a strange sighting Tuesday night in Salt Lake City. No, it wasn’t the Blazers allowing a deficit to balloon to insurmountable levels quicker than Raymond Felton’s post-season waste line. This was a positive injection of size, in the form of a 280 pound newcomer, Jusuf Nurkic.
Back to the basket, Back to the basket? Back…..to the… Basket? It sound’s weird, foreign even. This was the position Nurkic took up, albeit briefly in his role as back-up center Tuesday. The former Nugget is a bruiser whose nickname, “The Bosnian Beast” conjures up visions of old wives tales and popular Folklore. Or perhaps a reminiscent figure of the NBA’s past, a big man who is comfortable on the block.
Nurkic finished the night with 13 points, 7 rebounds, 3 steals, and 1 block. He shot an aberrational 5-5 from the field with an equally uncommon 4 turnovers in his 21 minute stint. Despite his pedestrian totals (regardless of the CRAZY per 36 avgs that line would produce), his output was noticeable on both sides of the ball.
For the first time since crazy legs Kaman, Lillard and CJ distributed the ball to a teammate posted up with his back to the basket, and after showing early success the defense began to collapse. I’m not talking Shaq or Hakeem collapses here, but just enough to free up much needed space. On various occasions Nurkic spearheaded stellar ball movement, with his initial offerings, leading to multiple open looks. On one offensive set in particular CJ dropped the ball down low only to receive a beautifully weighted touch pass right back for an open corner three. It’s the little things like his footwork, vision as a passer, and finishing around the rim that made his debut so promising.
On the defensive side of the ball his 6’11 wide frame proved far more difficult for the Jazz to traverse than his front-court counterparts in Meyers Leonard, and Ed Davis. His quick hands and sheer surface area led to 3 steals and a block, but more importantly it made the Jazz question running their offense through the paint.
He looked a bit clunky on pick & rolls, rolling the same direction as the guard on at least two occasions. At times on offense he looked a bit forced leading to his 4 turnovers. Defensively, while naturally reading the game well, communication on switches and missed assignments led to a couple easy finishes for Gobert. All of that being said, Nurkic posted a plus / minus of +18 which was 13 better than Portland’s second best performer on the night, Pat Conhaughton. In fact those were the only two players who post a “plus” line.
Portland traded away an asset certain to leave them in the off-season, with no return on investment. Instead, they acquired a young, promising center on a rookie contract, coupled a first round pick in next years draft. As a Blazer fan I’m excited to see how Nurkic progresses, and purely as a follower of the NBA It’s hard to argue with that business logic. It’s cliche to say “the verdict is still out”,but it seems an obvious conclusion after just one game. If nothing else Nurkic has certainly given Blazer fans something to be excited about.