Jusuf Nurkic at the center of the team’s future, despite the inconsistent past: the review of the Trail Blazers season, look ahead

Jusuf Nurkic at the center of the team’s future, despite the inconsistent past: the review of the Trail Blazers season, look ahead

Oregonian / OregonLive takes a look at player by player Portland Trail Blazers the list heading into the off-season.

Other posts: Josh Hart; Nassir Little; Justise Winslow; Trendon Watford; Greg Brown III; Keon Johnson; CJ Elleby; Brandon Williams; Ben McLemore; Drew Eubanks; Ilie Hughes; Keljin Blevins; DiDi Louzada; Joe Ingles; Eric Bledsoe; Reggie Perry; Kris Dunn.

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Today: Jusuf Nurkic, 27, 6-11, center.

Contract status: Nurkic will become an unrestricted free agent after earning $ 12 million this season.

Probability to return: It is safe to say that Nurkic is free to test the free market. But CEO Joe Cronin said the Blazers plan to sign Nurkic this summer.

Contributions 2021-22: Nurkic started all 56 games in which he appeared and recorded an average of 15 points, 11.1 rebounds and 2.8 assists. He shot 53.5% of the field while playing 28.2 minutes per game.

Strengths / weaknesses: One of Nurkic’s top goals this season has been to improve his near-basket accuracy. Mission accomplished. He shot 62.1% from inside five legs, compared to 56% last season. However, on 5- to 9-foot kicks, his numbers dropped slightly from 43.2% to 42.3%.

For the sake of comparison, Denver’s Nikola Jokic, a two-time MVP, shot 70.9% inside 5-footers and 60.6% on 5- to 9-foot shots. Jokic also overtook Nurkic in all other ranges.

Of course, no one should expect Nurkic to play at Jokic’s level. But the difference matters when we try to decide what Nurkic should actually be using in the attack.

He wants a bigger slice of the offensive pie, but he has yet to prove that the crime should flow more than he already does.

Where Nurkic fits very well in coach Chauncey Billups’ offense is as a facilitator. Billups doesn’t have a problem with Nurkic.

In defense, Nurkic had a defensive rating of 110.1, below his normal performance when he floated between 103.1 and 108.2. However, this season’s Blazers defense has been so weak that everyone’s individual ratings have risen.

That being said, Nurkic needs to be the anchor of the team’s defense for it to work, especially since the Blazers are planning to start Damian Lillard and Anfernee Simons on guard duty.

Trail Blazers Vs.  administration

Trail Blazers center Jusuf Nurkic (No. 27) scores Tristan Thompson of Sacramento as the Portland Trail Blazers open the 2021-22 NBA season against the Sacramento Kings Fashion Center on Wednesday, October 20, 2021.Sean Meagher / The Oregonian

Outlook 2022-23: Nurkic was inconsistent during the six seasons with the Blazers and some fan frustration resulted from the fact that he showed that he could be much better than he often is.

But if one sees Nurkic for what he is, there is no denying that the “Bosnian Beast” is a quality NBA center, which happens to be in the first phase.

For these reasons, it would have been foolish for the Blazers to have shipped from Nurkic at the trading deadline just to get whatever goods might be available. Quality centers are a rare commodity in the NBA, and chances are the Blazers may not have gotten a better option in a transaction or as a free agent.

Cronin and Billups have clearly shown that they value Nurkic’s skills and believe that he has not fully realized his potential. The parties have almost certainly reached an agreement on his return to the Blazers, as otherwise there is no way imaginable for Nurkic to agree to be locked up with “plantar fasciitis” while in the middle of one of the most dominant periods. of his career.

Nurkic’s price increased with each show. His last match took place in February. 16 during a 123-119 victory in Memphis in which he had 32 points, eight rebounds and four assists, while he walked 12 of 17 from the ground.

Nurkic can’t be expected to appear like this every night. But the threat of such performances makes Nurkic a valuable piece to have inside, attracting attention and feeding on the perimeter skills of Lillard and Simons.

And, of course, the Lillard-Nurkic pick-and-roll game can sometimes be sublime.

Nurkic is expected to receive a contract likely similar to the one Norman Powell’s team gave him last summer, when he signed for $ 90 million over five years.

While it may seem outrageous that Nurkic will jump from $ 12 million per season to about $ 18 million to $ 20 million after another erratic season, remember that Powell was one of the four good guards. but small, off the list. Nurkic was the only viable man on the team.

Nurkic is about to be paid and an agreement has probably already been reached. Blazers fans simply have to hope that Nurkic stays motivated enough to live up to Cronin’s belief in his talents.

– Aaron Fentress afentress@Oregonian.com | @AaronJFentress (Twitter), @AaronJFentress (Instagram), @AaronFentress (Facebook).

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