The preseason is a time for young players to experience the game at the next level, for veterans to get back in the groove, and for fouls, turnovers, and sloppy play, right?
Yes, the Trail Blazers had some unforced errors and looked out of sync on offensive at times on Sunday night vs. the Jazz, but a Trail Blazer player who was looking like he is already in a groove on both ends is Blazers center Jusuf Nurkic.
For Nurkic, the question mark surrounding his game is consistency.
Another question to add to the Nurkic book of questions is: Was that a good 3-point shooting night?
Get ready Rip City, it looks like you are about to have a new type of Nurk Fever.
The new diagnosis: The Bosnian Beast is ready to shoot the long ball.
Nurk has the green light
Over the last couple weeks, Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts has harped that he is looking for his team to get assist totals up and take more open looks from deep.
“We need to be more efficient, I’d like to shoot more threes,” Stotts said about his team.
But what’s different about last season to this season for Nurkic? Did Nurk not have the go ahead last season? Not necessarily.
“I didn’t tell him not to shoot them. I knew that at some point in his career he would because he’s a good enough shooter. He’s got a good stroke, it’s about getting comfortable with it… Now it’s just a question of him gaining that confidence and rhythm in games,” Stotts said.
But it comes down to one simple rule on whether or not Nurk should take the three:
“As long as they’re open,” Stotts said with a smile.
Against the Jazz, Nurkic went 2-of-2 from three and finished with 20 points on a very efficient 8-of-9 shooting from the floor.
A good three is way better than a long two
Last season, the Blazers averaged 32.2 three attempts per game. Against Utah on Sunday, Portland had the most three-pointers attempts in the preseason with 32.
Damian Lillard was dialed in from deep, hitting 4-of-5. The Blazers trusted three-point veteran is happy to see Nurk shoot a three this preseason compared to what he was doing last year:
“I think it’s better than him shooting those long twos that he usually shoots. We know that he’s capable of shooting from that range. We just want him to shoot the good ones. With our movement, if we screen like we need to and move off the ball like we need to, I think we’ll cause bigs to want to move close to the paint and help and he’ll get better looks.”
Meyers Leonard echoed those same sentiments.
“Nurk took quite a few fairly average mid-range to long mid-range shots last year and he has the touch to be able to take another step back,” Leonard said.
Leonard has been working closely with Nurkic in practice and might be the one Blazer who has seen Nurk’s shooting stroke the most.
“Before and after practice, it’s pretty normal for Nurk and I to be at the same rim, working with us two, Zach and Biggie, getting extra shots up, working on post moves and things of that nature, but we also get threes up,” Leonard said.
Don’t get it twisted though, Nurkic isn’t going to be jacking up threes left and right or at least he better not, if you ask his teammates.
“Obviously, we don’t want him out there just chucking up threes, but it’s a good shot if he can get them as open as he was tonight,” Lillard said.
For CJ McCollum to bless the three-ball from Nurkic, there better be some ball movement first.
“When they’re open and he has time, I don’t mind it, if it’s the first pass I don’t like it,” McCollum said.
Don’t expect an all-new Nurkic
Nurkic not only was perfect from three, but he also took care of business on the defensive end, finishing with five blocks and one steal.
“I think he’s locked in,” McCollum said.
There seems to be a different feeling towards Nurkic, even he thinks so.
“I feel like when I came back, the coach and organization has confidence in me,” Nurkic said.
The Bosnian Beast is not completely changing his game and he wants everyone to realize that.
“I know what I can do… If I’m open I’m gonna shoot. I’m gonna still be at the rim and play defense as best I can… I’m gonna shoot some threes, but I’m not gonna take away what I do. Sometimes I’m gonna shoot 10… It just depends if I’m open like tonight, but I’m not going to force it,” Nurkic said.
Remember how the preseason is still figuring out what you have to work on or fix? Nurk knows that he has to take better care of the ball.
“I think I had six turnovers in the first half, which is too much,” Nurkic said.
More often than not people are their worst critics, tonight Nurk was hard on himself with the turnovers — he actually finished with four, but hey, we can let him think he had six. Preseason is all about getting better and now it’s about getting more comfortable with more three-point buckets for Nurkic.
Welcome to New Nurk.