What the return of Jusuf Nurkic means for the Blazers
News broke on Friday that Jusuf Nurkic could be making his season debut soon.
According to Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports, Nurkic will return on March 15 against the Houston Rockets.
With the Blazers 3.5 games out of the playoffs, the return couldn't come soon enough.
But was does it really mean for the Blazers? Let's take a look...
Blazers going all-in on a playoff run
One thing is clear: The Blazers are still looking to make a playoff push.
Currently 3.5 games behind the Memphis Grizzlies for the eighth and final playoff spot, the Blazers need all the wins they can get.
Portland could have easily held Nurkic out for the rest of the season, and perhaps held Lillard out, too.
Instead, Lillard came back from the groin strain, Nurkic is coming back from his broken leg, and there is still hope Zach Collins (shoulder dislocation) can return at some point.
Reinforcements are rolling in, now it's time to take advantage.
Nurkic brings much needed depth to the big man rotation
The Blazers big man rotation has been rough this season.
Collins has been out most of the season, Pau Gasol never got to play, and the Blazers have relied on players like Anthony Tolliver, Caleb Swanigan, Skal Labissiere, and Wenyen Gabrial to fill up minutes at center. Outside of Labissiere, those other players aren't even true centers.
Now, Portland finally has a big man off the bench that can help on the boards and is perfect in the Terry Stotts pick-and-roll system.
Not to mention, it finally gives the Blazers another seven-footer to hit the floor.
Hassan Whiteside will remain the starter for now, but in Nurkic the Blazers have a backup big they can trust.
And who knows, you may even see Nurkic and Whiteside on the floor together just to experiment.
Nurkic is finally 110%
It should be noted that this year off didn't only help Nurkic's leg heal, it helped his entire body heal.
Bigs in the NBA can take a beating, and Nurkic is no stranger to bumps and bruises.
While he wanted to return long ago, the medical staff made sure his body was 100% ready to go.
As Nurkic said to Yahoo, "I wanted to play before anyone else wanted me to play, but this was the first time in my career that I could fully heal. I didn’t want to regret it later if I got out there too early."
By taking his time, we are getting the healthiest version of Nurkic we've ever seen.
Nurkic could be the difference in key games ahead
As stated earlier, the Blazers are 3.5 games behind the eighth-place Grizzlies, just a half-game ahead of the Kings and Spurs, and 1.5 games ahead of the Pelicans.
Of the Blazers' 19 remaining games, nine of them are against teams currently not in the Top 8 in their conference. Once Nurkic returns, the team will have 15 games left, with one more on the schedule against the Memphis Grizzlies.
The point is, the schedule is favorable for the Blazers and there are still chances remaining to drastically make up ground with the Grizzlies.
In many games this season, the Blazers downfall has been when Whiteside had to leave the court and the Blazers had to rely on their rotation bigs. Now, with Nurkic in the lineup, the Blazers won't take a major dip when the second unit comes in.
Nurkic really could be the difference down the stretch. Jusuf Nurkic or Caleb Swanigan? We'll take Nurkic.
Realistic expectations for Nurkic
What can we really expect from Nurkic upon his return?
Last season, he averaged a career-best 15.6 points and 10.4 rebounds per game in 27.4 minutes per game.
Nurkic will likely be on a minutes restriction upon his return, and even when he has all the rust off, his minutes could be a little lower than normal.
As the primary backup center, Caleb Swanigan has been averaging about 15 minutes per game. So let's say Nurkic gets all those minutes.
If he is playing 15mpg, then we are realistically looking at Nurkic contributing about 10 points and 7 rebounds per game.
Blazers fans will take that all day long. For comparison, this season (in time spent with the Blazers):
Swanigan: 3.5 ppg, 5.0 rpg
Wenyen Gabrial: 2.0 ppg, 2.1 rpg
Skal Labissiere: 5.8 ppg, 5.1 rpg
Anthony Tolliver: 3.9 ppg, 3.3 rpg
The numbers show just how valuable Nurkic can be in limited minutes. Now just imagine how valuable he'll be if Stotts gets him 20 or more.
The Blazers season could turnaround quickly, all thanks to Nurk.