When you have a nickname like “Bosnian Beast,” you expect aggressive play on the court.
So, it’s not really a surprise that Trail Blazers big Jusuf Nurkic has had at least three fouls in his last five games and has fouled out in two of those past five games.
After Monday’s win over the Pacers, the Blazers got back to work at practice Tuesday afternoon. Nurkic, who fouled out against Indiana with 90 seconds remaining, spent time looking at his fouls on film.
The Trail Blazers center spends day after day watching film to review his fouls, whether it’s a foul at the rim or a moving screen. He has also spent time with former referee Don Vaden trying to figure out how he can avoid getting into foul trouble.
“There’s still a lot of room to grow," Nurkic said.
Last season, the Trail Blazers hired Vaden as a consultant for the players and coaching staff to be able to talk with about league rules, officials’ tendencies and more.
Even though, Nurkic often discusses his previous games and fouls with Vaden, it doesn’t mean he is on the same page with him at all times.
“Most of the time I don’t agree with him,” Nurkic said with a smile.
But Nurkic knows it’s a work in progress and he believes he is getting better at arguing less calls.
“I try to do whatever I can to help myself and help [the referees] to understand, you know, I’m still 280 and a big guy,” Nurkic said.
The Trail Blazers starting center understands that officials are not going to see everything, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t frustrating.
“I don’t mind if they call a foul on me, but I feel they miss something, but you know, they see it differently and I’m still working on that,” Nurkic said.
The Trail Blazers are 70 games into the season and Nurkic is now seventh in the league in fouls per game with 3.5 fouls.
Nurkic also mentioned that by being so aggressive and picking up a foul here and there, he feels he can help bring the energy level up on the team.
Blazers head coach Terry Stotts isn’t convinced that picking up early fouls isn’t impacting Nurkic’s game.
“It’s when he gets fouls early in the game that I think it effects his aggressiveness, obviously it affects the rotation a little bit,” Stotts said.
“Nurk’s just like any player that gets in foul trouble… It probably affects how they play, it affects when you have a good player that you rely on every night, not be able to be on the court for as much as you want, it affects the team,” Stotts added.
As far as total fouls on the season, Nurkic currently has the third-most in the league with 243 behind Karl-Anthony Towns (256) and Patrick Beverley (246).
But for the Trail Blazers captain who is running pick and rolls with Nurkic, Damian Lillard said he doesn’t feel Nurk’s early foul trouble is changing the way he plays.
“I wouldn’t say it’s affecting his game, it might be affecting his minutes," Lillard said. "He’s got to sit earlier than usual or foul out like last night, but he’s just being aggressive. Last night he fouled out trying to set a screen for me. I think he’s fouling out on plays you want to see him make, it’s just an unfortunate whistle, that’s what I think."
Nurkic may be watching film everyday, but the team is not focusing on or worried about him picking up too many fouls.
“A lot of the calls that he gets called for sometimes in the paint and at the rim, the same thing happens to him, it just doesn’t get called, so you don’t want to tell him don’t do this or don’t do that and take away his aggressiveness, because there’s a good chance it won’t be called,” Lillard said.
Lillard also noted that sometimes it’s the guards fault that a big will get whistled for the foul.
“Sometimes they come to set screens for us, we leave early-- they get a moving screen," Lillard said. "Sometimes they’re trying to get an offensive rebound-- they go over somebody’s back, there’s contact-- the get a foul. They’re in positions to get a lot of fouls more than, even us, as guards."
“Bigs get in foul trouble, that’s just what it is,” Lillard said with a smile.