As anyone who paid attention to his first 20 games as a Trail Blazers could tell you, the expectations for center Jusuf Nurkić entering the 2017-18 season are sky high in Rip City. After being acquired in mid-February from the Denver Nuggets, the 7-0 center in his third season out of Bosnian and Herzegovina averaged 15.2 points on 51 percent shooting, 10.4 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.9 blocks and 1.3 steals, all of which were significant increases over his career averages, while helping the Trail Blazers make a push for the playoffs before suffering a broken leg. Given that, there’s considerable hope that Nurkić could be the key to Portland joining the elite teams in the Western Conference, and from the looks of it, he’s doing his part to put himself in the best position to do just that.
But Nurkić’s run with the Trail Blazers last season was also noticed by many outside of Rip City, as evidenced by the “Bosnian Beast” being selected by Adam Fromal of Bleacher Report as a potential “breakout player” at the center position…
Jusuf Nurkic struggled immensely while suiting up for the Denver Nuggets, failing to work with Nikola Jokic or thrive alone in the starting lineup. He just didn’t seem motivated until the midseason trade to the Portland Trail Blazers kicked him into gear.
From that point forward, he started flashing skills that had previously been dormant. He protected the rim quite nicely behind Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. He showcased a desire to work as a secondary distributor and hit cutters as they burst toward the basket—something he was rather hesitant to do with his limited touches in the Mile High City.
Everything worked, and he reinvigorated Rip City while averaging 15.2 points, 10.4 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.9 blocks in 20 games. If he’s able to maintain those numbers and his two-way effectiveness, he’ll quickly leap up the center hierarchy and affirm the celestial status he looked capable of achieving in 2016-17.
Nurkić is joined by Chicago’s Cristiano Felicio, Charlotte’s Frank Kaminsky, Atlanta’s Dewayne Dedmon and Houston’s Clint Capela on the list of breakout centers. Nurkić was also recently picked by NBA.com as one of the favorites to win the Most Improved Player award.