There’s no question that finding out whether Jusuf Nurkić is really as good as he showed in his first 20 games as a Trail Blazer is the main question of the minds of fans in Rip City going into training camp, which starts Monday with Media Day at the Moda Center. While the 7-0 center out of Bosnia and Herzegovina might not be better than Damian Lillard and/or CJ McCollum, one could argue that no player is more important to Portland’s chances of acceding to the upper echelon of the Western Conference than Nurkić. Given that, it only makes sense that curiosity about “the Bosnian Beast” going into training camp is at an all-time high in Portland.
But “Nurk Fever” is hardly confined to those residing in the northwest. After Nurkić transformed from a forgotten man in Denver to an unstoppable force (albeit for 20 games) in Portland, observers around the NBA are also interested in whether the 23 year-old can sustain the the high level of play he showed during the Trail Blazers’ run to the post-season. One such observer is ESPN’s Zach Lowe, who lists Nurkić as one of the most intriguing players going into the 2017-18 season…
Nurkic’s revival is a useful reminder that only a half-dozen or so superstars translate independently across any roster. Everyone else is a plant seeking the right habitat.
In Denver, Nurkic set screens for point guards who inspired no fear. In Portland, he dances with Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, lethal pull-up shooters who draw traps 30 feet from the rim. Nurkic suddenly had space to rampage, and holy hell, did he rampage.
He understood defenses would swarm Lillard and McCollum early, and adjusted by slipping screens — darting toward the paint before even setting a pick — way more often in Portland than in Denver, per Synergy Sports. Nurkic isn’t a leaper, but he’s explosive on the horizontal plane; he can zip from the foul line to the rim in a flash.
“We didn’t know the extent of his game,” said McCollum, who watched a lot of film with Nurkic early to accelerate their two-man chemistry. “He’s huge, but he can make plays without being a klutz.”
Nurkic became a fundamentally different player. He migrated outside, and exchanged brute force post-ups for pick-and-roll devastation. (It also helped that he, like, tried.) Most promising of all, he showed the passing chops to run Portland’s offense from the elbows, easing the creative burden on Lillard and McCollum.
There’s plenty more from Lowe, including detailed breakdowns of the ways Nurkić changed the Trail Blazers on both sides of the ball after joining the starting lineup.