By: Mikey Domgala (http://www.opencourt-basketball.com)
When the trade was announced that the Portland Trail Blazers traded Mason Plumlee—a valuable piece to Portland’s team in the first half of the season—to Denver for Jusuf Nurkic and a second-round-pick, they were disappointed with the franchise’s decision. Then, a late report from The Vertical announced Portland also received the rights to the Memphis Grizzlies’ 2017 first round draft pick and made the deal easier to swallow.
In 14 games since Jusuf Nurkic joined the charge, the Portland Trail Blazers have turned a struggling season into a potential success; Portland is currently 0.5 games behind Denver for the 8th spot in the Western Conference (as of 3/21/17) and 8-2 over their last 10 games. The insertion of Nurkic into Portland’s lineup has given star backcourt duo Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum a go-to scorer at the center slot, a floor spacer, and a great partner in the pick-and-roll. His rebounding prowess has been on full display since he touched down in “Rip City,” as he recorded 28 points and 20 rebounds in Portland’s 114-108 win over Philadelphia and has had a number of double-digit rebounding games.
The 7’0”, 280-pound Bosnian bull has always had the potential, but never had the true opportunity to shine in Denver. To go with injuries that plagued his rookie and sophomore seasons and the emergence of Nikola Jokic, made Nurkic’s value diminish. The Nuggets tried to make the European duo work, but never had success. Trading him was the best option for both parties.
With Portland, Nurkic is averaging an impressive 14.4 points, 6.2 rebounds, 1.3 assists, and 1.2 blocks per game and is quickly becoming a fan favorite. His scoring and rebounding averages have almost doubled when comparing what he did with Denver in 2016-17 to his blossom in Portland.
The new arrival also brought a confidence boost to Portland Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard. With Nurkic’s ability to stretch the floor, Lillard has more space and opportunities to score, the two-time All-Star earned Western Conference Player of the Week honors after averaging 36.3 points on 53.8 percent shooting and 54.8 percent from three-point range over his last five games.
Jusuf Nurkic is exactly what the NBA needs. While today’s centers are transforming into stretch-bigs who hover around the three-point line, Nurkic is a dominant rebounder who uses his gigantic frame to bully his way in the paint.
Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, Nurkic, and the revamped Portland Trail Blazers are becoming a determined team in the West. If their stellar play continues, Portland may just sneak into the Playoffs.