But at the same time, they’ve got a big Bosnian in the middle of the paint defensively protecting the rim and in the low block offensively to create a focus to keep the defense from simply ranging out on Portland’s shooters and short-circuiting their offense.
The big Bosnian, Jusuf Nurkic, is the subject of this week’s examination of his skillset, and on a Blazers team with aspirations toward genuine contention in the Western Conference, we’re putting Nurkic to a high standard, applying the Chris Bosh/Toni Kukoc test.
Namely, if Nurkic is your third-best player, can you win a title if your top two are good enough?
Let’s to it, shall we?
The Counting Stats
Nurkic is putting up one of the best offensive seasons of his career, averaging 15.2 points, 10.4 rebounds, and a sutprisingly adept 3.2 assists per game.
His minutes are in the same general 25-30 range they’ve always been, so on a per-36 minute basis, his 20.0 points, 13.8 rebounds, and 4/2 assists are also career highs.
For the second straight year, Nurkic is hitting on just over half his shots (50.5 percent last year, 50.3 this year), and while he’s still doing most of his work inside 10 feet (77 percent of his shots last year, 81.6 percent this year), he’s ranged out and hit the first three triples (on 25 attempts) of his career.
We’re seeing the seed of a guy learning to become a stretch 5. But he’s not there yet.
So we’ve established he can score, and while he’s not a world-beater down low (just 60.1 percent inside three feet), he’s still making half his shots as the third option.
The Advanced Stats
The giant “hey, wow” stat on Nurkic’s line is his on-off Net Rating split.
On the court, he’s plus-9.0. His on-off split is plus-16.7 in 1363 minutes on court.
The Blazers are a completely different team with Nurkic off the floor, and they’re not a good team.
Nurkic’s True Shooting is way up this year (.561 this year; .528 last year), and that .561 is by far his best season overall.
As you’ve probably guessed without having to look, it’s all about his ability to attack the basket and get to the line; he’s shooting 8.8 free throws per 100 possessions (and making 74.9 percent of them) after just 6.5 attempts at 63 percent last year.
For the first time in his career, he’s got a positive Offensive Box Plus-Minus, and his defensive number in that stat (plus-4.0) is good for fifth in the entire league, making a case for Nurkic on an All-Defense team.
Throw in a career-best 2.5 VORP in just 50 games, headed for a four-VORP season, and you see how this all goes.
Portland is 15th in Defensive Rating league-wide after ranking eighth last year, which makes Nurkic’s defensive numbers even more remarkable.
Nurk is putting up star numbers in his own right; he’d potentially be a legit All-Star candidate if he didn’t play in a Western Conference with a crowded house of great frontcourt players.
Which is a shame, because the Bosnian Beast is fantastic. Confirmed.
NEXT WEEK: Wilson Chandler. Is he still good or closer to being washed than being great?