Jusuf Nurkic is a player with few weaknesses to his game. But there’s one shot he should add to his repertoire, or utilize more of, if he wants to further expand his offensive horizons.
Let’s set the disclaimer right away: picking nits in Jusuf Nurkić’s game is an astronomical task if we’ve seen one. Just six games into his return, he’s putting up statistics we’ve seen only three times in NBA history ― and two of those resulted in Most Valuable Player awards. And whether or not that’s sustainable, he’s looked a lot like that All-Star caliber big with few weaknesses to his game that we’ve come to know and love.
There’s one last wrinkle to his game, that, if ironed out, supplies the Portland Trail Blazers‘ multifaceted big with the opportunity to become an even more dynamic offensive player: the floater.
The sample size in Orlando has given us an idea of what Nurkić is comfortable doing. But there was a moment during Saturday’s game against the Los Angeles Clippers, that told a bit of a story. Damian Lillard and Nurkic were creating offense through the a short pick-and-roll, Lillard dishes a pocket pass, and with Ivica Zubac out of the play, all that’s left for Nurkic to do is flip up a shot with his soft touch, and it’s rendered a successful play.
Instead, Nurkic burrows his way deep into the lane, and Paul George ― excuse my language, that name is sacred in these parts of town ― steps in and draws a charge, taking advantage of Nurkić’s brute force nature.
Don’t get it twisted; Nurkic is more than capable of making that shot. But during Orlando play, it’s become something of a trend watching him ignore the floater opportunity, and get himself into trouble with turnovers and awkward missed shots. Here are a few more examples:
This feels important for two reasons. At this point, Jusuf Nurkic may as well walk into the arena with two fouls to his record; he and Dillon Brooks are tied for the most fouls committed per game (4.7) in the Orlando bubble.
Nurkic is naughty by nature on the defensive end. And the Blazers are a much more formidable team when he’s able to be an aggressor on the defensive end and challenge shots. So, if he’s wasting previous fouls on unnecessary charging fouls, he has to sacrifice a bit of his vigor when protecting the rim.
And secondly, it’s not as if this “ignoring the floater” issue is simply going to pass away. The Nurkic-Lillard pick-and-roll is among the Blazers’ most reliable sources for offense.
As a case in point: Nurkic ranks No. 9 in screen assists and No. 8 in screen assist points. In symphony, Lillard is 2nd in the NBA in pick-and-roll possessions per game as a ball handler. Hopefully, you’re picking up what I’m putting down here. Actually, no, don’t put it down. Just float it up.
The numbers check out, too. Even as Nurkic has expanded his range admirably, he’s made just seven shots from 5-to-9 feet away, prototypical floater range. On film, the lion’s share of them have come through either his patented post hook or turnaround fadeaways and fadeaway bank shots, And that’s understandable. Conventional wisdom tells us … why put up floaters and soft-touch shots when you can bully anything standing in the way?
In studying his 2018-19 film, it appears Jusuf Nurkic utilized the floater on occasion; NBA.com tracks him in going 9-of-32 on these last season. So, to imagine him not having it completely would be foolish. But in the 191 minutes we’ve been fortunate to see from him this season, he’s left a few points on the board by not looking to this part of his skillset.
We’ve seen players of a similar archetype ― think Richaun Holmes, the master of the quick pop-a-shot floater ― or Marc Gasol, become experts at this sort of shot. It opens up easier scoring opportunities, and further helps the Blazers advance their elite pick-and-roll play.
Jusuf Nurkic is talented and competitive enough to pass the tests of the NBA with flying colors, even without making the floater a preeminent staple in his game. But film shows that it could be the difference in adding a few extra points to his box score totals. And if the Blazers’ play in the bubble has told us anything at all, that could make all the difference.