The new weapon was supposed to arrive from 24 feet out.
Coming into the season, Jusuf Nurkic was supposedly going add a three-point shot. Instead the latest addition to his arsenal is coming in the post where “New Nurk” is honing an old school game with recent flashes of effective, bruising post play.
In Oakland last Thursday, Nurkic roughed up Golden State for 27 points and 12 rebounds. Two nights later, in the rematch against Golden State in Portland he put up 21 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists. Then on Sunday night’s blowout win over the Philadelphia 76ers, he added 17 points and 10 rebounds.
For the season, Nurkic averages 4.5 post ups a game, according to NBA.com. But over the past three games, the Blazers have fed Nurkic inside, giving him 14 post touches a night and allowing him to body smaller players with a his back to the basket game.
“I realized I need to be more aggressive,” Nurkic said. “And I have to be more patient when teams play really small and try to play in the post more.”
Obviously much of Nurkic’s success in the post is matchup-based. Neither the Warriors nor the Joel Embiid-less 76ers had a center who could match Portland’s big man inside. The fact that the Blazers, who have been mostly post up averse over the past four seasons, continually fed Nurkic inside is noteworthy. It’s an important change of pace for an offense that is heavily reliant on pick and rolls.
“I think it’s really good for Dame (Lillard) and CJ (McCollum) and the other guys to kinda free space,” Nurkic said. “Usually (the other team) is doubling them in the pick and roll. My job is just to help them with that.”
Nurkic has scored inside in nearly every way, spinning past Amir Johnson, plowing through Kevon Looney and going right over the top of Draymond Green. But he isn’t only looking to score on the block. Nurkic has commanded double teams and found teammates with passes when extra defenders arrive.
Nurkic has always wanted to post up more with the Blazers. Last season, he stopped just short of complaining about the lack of post ups on a few occasions. But truthfully, he wasn’t patient enough or skilled enough with his off hand to be a consistent low block option.
He has spent much of this season working with Blazers assistants on finishing with his left hand and scoring through contact.
“I think he’s slowed down a lot and he’s just playing a much smarter game,” Damian Lillard said.
The Blazers offense isn’t hopping in a time machine with a back to the basket behemoth leading the attack. But Nurkic has shown enough improvement with his skills and decision making on the block that the Blazers can rely on that option when they need it.
“Obviously the two games against Golden State he was very effective,” Blazers coach Terry Stotts said. “And it’s very encouraging, but it’s part of his growth. He’s gotta continue it.”