Much has been made of the Blazers great start to the season. Most of the praise has gone to either our dynamic backcourt of Dame and CJ or our potent bench unit. However, one of the more underrated contributors to the team has been Jusuf Nurkic. The Bosnian beast has become a sort of forgotten man within the mix of players who have made improvements over the offseason. But his production has been anything but forgettable. Despite his minutes decreasing (although marginally), his points and rebounds per game have increased. More importantly, his shooting percentages have all risen. The frustrating flip shots have been (mostly) replaced with strong finishes at the rim. Additionally, he has drastically improved his free throw shooting numbers, no longer making him a liability if he comes in during the end of games.
It is not just his offense that has improved. His defense, a headache last year due to inconsistency, has also made strides. He has become a much more effective rim protector, teaming up with Zach Collins to form one of the best shot blocking duos in the NBA. While his ability to defend pick and rolls in space has previously been a concern, he is no longer a distinct liability. It is hard to knock him there due to his body type, which is not designed to move with NBA point guards. The improvement on both ends of the floor have led to a bigger impact when he is on the court. Last year, his on/off court differential was +2.1. This year, it has spiked up to a whopping +10.6. This is also corroborated by the best plus/minus of his young career at 7.3, almost 3 points higher than his “Nurk Fever” stint in 2016-17.
Even after all the improvements that Nurkic is making, he is only playing 25 minutes a game. Much of this has to do with the emergence of Collins, who has been able to provide the invaluable floor spacing and rim protection combination. His constant improvement provides something for Blazer fans to watch for in terms of individual competition. At the least, it gives Nurkic the incentive to keep improving. We may not get the frenzy of Nurk Fever 2016-17, but we may have something better. No one can argue the positive impact that Nurkic has made on this team and on his role in the lineup, so let’s just revel in the riches we have at our disposal.
All Stats Provided By Basketball Reference and NBA.com
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