How Jusuf Nurkić’s extended range opens a new dimension for the Trail Blazers’ offense

Portland Trail Blazers Jusuf Nurkic (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Portland Trail Blazers Jusuf Nurkic (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images) /
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Jusuf Nurkic, Portland Trail Blazers
Jusuf Nurkic, Portland Trail Blazers (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images) /

No. 2: Nurkic with extended range gives Terry Stotts more lineup freedom

In the past, we’ve touched briefly on how the Portland Trail Blazers could find themselves in situations where it feels like a necessity to run bigger lineups.

Should the Blazers make the postseason, they’ll be matched up against Los Angeles, where Anthony Davis almost always has another big by him in the frontcourt; he’s been joined by either JaVale McGee or Dwight Howard in 1,164 of his 1,889 minutes in 2019-20.

The optimal lineup, of course, is to spell Whiteside and Nurkic, and run one or the other at a time, and playing them alongside Carmelo Anthony or Zach Collins. But in limited spurts, that old-school ball could serve a benefit if one of them can stretch the floor. Don’t mistake this for me simply spewing nonsense. Stotts has alluded to this, too. In Apr. 20’s Portland Trail Blazers Courtside, he said the following:

"“Historically, when we’ve been a good pick-and-roll defensive team, we’ve had our bigs drop and protect the paint. That hasn’t worked as well this year, but having two of them out there for half the game, then maybe we can adapt and take advantage of that.”"

That feels sacrilege in the modern, analytical NBA, but take a look around the league. The top three defensive teams in the NBA — the Bucks, Raptors and Lakers — cover a similar philosophy. They keep two rim protectors on the floor nearly all the time. Be it Gasol and Ibaka, Lopez and Antetokounmpo, or McGee and Howard, there’s some mixture of frontline resistance on “D,” and perimeter skill on “O.”

We see similar stories across the league; Kristaps Porzingis and Dwight Powell, Meyers Leonard and Bam Adebayo, etc.

Antetokounmpo + Lopez: +15.77 net rating in 1,074 minutes
Porzingis + Powell: +12.23 net rating in 498 minutes
Davis + Howard: +7.43 net rating in 765 minutes
Leonard + Adebayo: +7.22 net rating in 781 minutes
(Toronto was a net positive no matter who you toggled in, be it with or without Siakam).

Now, perhaps I’m getting too ambitious. To expect Nurkić, after a 18-month lay-off to comeback and bring along the impact like that of Brook Lopez could be overzealous. The point, though, is that in the minutes he does play, he gives Stotts’ a potential new wrinkle that helps them combat some of the teams they will be playing against.

With Joel Embiid and Nikola Jokić as our testaments, teams will still bite on pump fakes, even if bigs aren’t shooting above the league average threshold. It’s the threat that sounds. And for the first time in his career, Nurkić might just offer that.