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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Trail Blazers, Damian Lillard, Jusuf Nurkic, Chris Paul
Damian Lillard, Jusuf Nurkic, Portland Trail Blazers (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images) /

No. 3: If defenses fear Nurkic on picks, everyone else gets easier looks

There’s been some discussion as to if the Lillard-McCollum duo covers each of the requisite check marks needed to win an NBA championship. Yet, even if they never do, there’s one area they can take pride in being the best at: pick-and-roll dominance.

No team in the NBA generates more points out of the pick-and-roll than the Trail Blazers (26.5). And since the tracking stat’s inception, they’ve had two first-place finishes and two at No. 4. A lot of that had to be sacrificed this year, with injuries to Collins and Nurkić. The only player on Portland’s current roster with a pick frequency higher than 10.0 percent is Hassan Whiteside. Nurkić’s return adds that second dimension.

Last season the benefits of that were on full display, as Nurkić’s screens led to the No. 4 most points in the NBA.

As the budding big prepares to return to the league with an improved jump shot to boot, it’s fun to envision what this means for the efficiency of benefactors like CJ McCollum, Anfernee Simons and Damian Lillard.

It gets lost between the scoring, but Lillard is producing by far the most efficient season of his career, and McCollum has been his usual self. The one major reason for his slight droppage is that he’s shooting just 37.9 on shots within the 3-to-10 foot range.

Last week, we touched on both McCollum’s hot shots, and Whiteside’s success outside the paint in limited volume. But on film, defenses aren’t frightened enough by Whiteside that they’re willing to leave McCollum in 1-on-1 situations in that range. McCollum’s more than capable of hitting said shots; in 2016-17, he hit 48.8 percent of them.

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Nurkić returning with enough range to even evoke a little bit of fear in opposing defenses opens up just about everyone’s game. From less resistance at the rim for the Portland Trail Blazers’ stars, to cleaner cutting lanes for a player like Nassir Little (1.37 points per possession on cuts) it’s an essence, a gift that keeps on giving.