Remember the “Double Beast” in the Orlando Bubble?
For those who don’t recall, that was a time last summer when Jusuf Nurkic made his return from his gruesome broken leg injury. A time when Nurkic vowed to come back better than ever.
And he did just that.
Playing 30 plus minutes a night, while looking agile and in shape, he was a difference maker during the NBA restart.
But then, once the team lost to the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round of the playoffs, it was back to reality and it was back to the pandemic life of no five-on-five pickup games. It was just individual workouts. That, coupled with a shortened offseason, has hampered many players, including Nurkic.
During training camp the Blazers starting center admitted he was at “70 percent” as far as his conditioning was concerned.
And that has shown so far this season.
Also, don't forget that Nurkic is a player who feeds off of energy.
A fan-less arena despite how hard organizations try to make it feel like a “normal” game, is just not the same, especially for a guy who was very much looking forward to returning to play in front of Rip City faithful.
So it’s no wonder that the Bosnian Beast has struggled out of the gate after mixing in all of those factors.
But the Blazers need Nurk.
They also need to be more consistent on the defensive end.
But that’s another story, for another time.
Following the Bulls come from behind victory over the Blazers Tuesday night, CJ McCollum and Damian Lillard discussed the value of Nurkic.
Bubble Nurk averaged 17.6 points, 10.3 rebounds, 2.0 blocks, and 1.4 steals.
Entering Tuesday’s game against the Bulls, Nurkic was averaging 9.0 points and 7.3 rebounds in six games with 0.8 steals and 0.8 bocks per game.
It was a night of disappointment in the Trail Blazers locker room following Tuesday's loss to the Bulls.
It was also a night that Portland’s coach Terry Stotts said his team’s effort wasn’t there in the second half.
But for the Blazers backcourt duo, they made it a point to get the ball to Nurk early. They wanted to at least get him touches in the first few minutes, which they often do.
Nurkic was patient down low, even though at times it looked like he was forcing it a bit, but the big fella finished with 12 points on 6-of-15 shooting to go along with 11 rebounds and six assists.
It wasn’t the Double Beast mode that Nurk had promised before making his return and then delivered on, but he’s working towards that.
And that’s in big thanks to Lillard and McCollum.
“I think Dame in particular, but I think Dame and CJ try to get [Nurkic] going, especially early,” Coach Stotts said of Nurkic’s early touches. “I think Dame has a really good feel for the game and so I think early on, [Nurkic] was getting a lot of opportunities… I think Dame and CJ do a good job of trying to keep him involved.”
While the Blazers were outscored 30-23 in the final period, it was the first quarter where Portland found success at both ends.
Over the years, Lillard has talked about letting the game come to him in first quarter action. Getting Nurkic involved early can help set that tone for both Lillard and Nurk.
But getting Nurk involved also means that Lillard can get others quality looks in the game and as he puts it “loosen up the defense” for himself.
“I think I play that way because I try to use making the right plays and hitting guys to make open shots and hitting guys to score to loosen up the defense on myself and Nurk has been really good at that since he’s been in Portland.”
Now it’s about getting the Double Beast back.
Or as McCollum says, “the best version of Nurkic” – the Blazers could sure use him on both ends of the floor.