PHOENIX – Since the Trail Blazers signed Hassan Whiteside last offseason, the thought had always been that Whiteside would fill the starting role until Jusuf Nurkic returned.
Now that Nurkic’s targeted return date is set for Mar. 15th against the Houston Rockets at home, the questions surrounding the two big men's minutes and role have begun.
Blazers head coach Terry Stotts will now have to figure out the balancing act of minutes played between the two.
Heading into Friday’s game, Coach Stotts was asked about easing Nurkic back into the lineup. But, Stotts wouldn’t offer up any thoughts on the assumption of Nurkic starting and Whiteside coming off the bench.
“To be honest, I haven’t given it a lot of thought,” Stotts said of how his big man rotation will look with Nurkic back. “I’ve been really focused on whatever game we really have coming up. With Nurk setting a target date of the 15th, you know that’s not confirmed. That’s hopeful. He’s still got some benchmarks to reach, but we’re hopeful that will happen, but we’ve got a lot of basketball before then.”
The Blazers now have three games left before Nurk's targeted date after dropping Friday's game to the Phoenix Suns.
The Bosnian Beast will most likely be on a minutes restriction, at least for the first handful of games as he works his way back into game shape.
Thus, Whiteside will probably play starter's minutes even if he isn't out on the floor when the ball is tipped.
But, could the Blazers go with the Twin Towers and play both centers together?
Whiteside thinks so.
I think it’ll be good. Melo posts up 80% of the time, so it’s not going to be a spacing issue or anything. I think we’ll be a force out there. Even when we’re in a game, I think we can play minutes together and then we can rotate in and out. -- Trail Blazers big man Hassan Whiteside on playing alongside Jusuf Nurkic
This season with the Blazers, Whiteside is averaging 16.1 points, 14.2 rebounds, and 3.1 blocks. He is also shooting an efficient 61.2 percent from the field.
Prior to the injury, Nurk averaged 15.6 points and 10.4 rebounds last season, both of which were career-highs.
There’s no doubt that these two have different games.
Both will alter shots at the rim, but, of course, Whiteside is the better shot blocker.
Nurkic is a more of a facilitator than Whiteside on the other end. He allows Damian Lillard to play more off the ball in the pick and roll.
While, Whiteside does have four more years in the league on Nurkic, he had no problem comparing his game to what Nurkic can bring.
He’s more a pitching big. He passes the ball a little more. He’s more at the free throw line area with his pitches and passes and stuff. I’m more in the paint and under the rim. I’ve been shooting threes a little bit, but I’m more of a guy who likes to get straight to the Baja. -- Center Hassan Whiteside explaining the difference between his game and Nurkic’s
Having two true rim protectors is always better than one, obviously.
And for Blazers veteran wing player Trevor Ariza, who has always prided himself on defense, he is looking forward to taking full advantage of both Whiteside and Nurkic’s skill sets.
[Jusuf] will bring a different aspect from what Hassan brings, which is a great thing when you have two guys that can do things differently, so teams can’t just always lock into what you do. I’m excited for his return upon this push that we’re trying to make to get into the playoffs -- veteran Trevor Ariza on Nurkic’s return
Both Whiteside and Nurkic may or may not see very many minutes on the floor together. That remains to be seen.
However, the two have built a great relationship off the court while Nurk has been rehabbing.
The duo also have one goal in mind: Win enough games to make the postseason and continue to figure out how their abilities can best serve the Trail Blazers.