Portland Trail Blazers: A closer look at the Blazers’ unstoppable inbounds play

Jusuf Nurkic, Portland Trail Blazers. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
Jusuf Nurkic, Portland Trail Blazers. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images) /

There’s no shortage in the amount of ways the Portland Trail Blazers can score. This season, one of their baseline inbounds plays has also become one of their most unstoppable.

Assuming the cards fall for them to go on a deep run in the Playoffs, the Portland Trail Blazers will reap major benefits for how many ways they can score. From isolations and pull-ups with Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum to old-fashioned slow-it-down post play with Jusuf Nurkic and Carmelo Anthony, among much else, their depth should ensure that they have an answer to almost anything offensively.

And while those examples are the plays that make the nightly SportsCenter reels and viral Twitter posts, this year’s team has become a fascinating study in how they’ve created offense in more methodical ways.

As a case in point, the Blazers have been able to scheme up one of the NBA’s most unstoppable plays on inbounds along the baseline, utilizing Nurkic’s size to get some of their most efficient looks over the course of a game. It’s a trend that’s routinely reared its head on film.

By my count, the Blazers have run it five times over their first three games, which is miraculous because of how simple a concept it is. Take a look for yourself.

It likely doesn’t even require an explanation, but for entertainment’s sake: the Blazers have one of their guards — most often CJ McCollum — throw the ball in to Jusuf Nurkic, and those guards can either generate a head of steam and come off of a handoff for a quick score, or use that momentum to cut backdoor.

It also helps to have spacers in the deep corners on the weak side. Sometimes, the Blazers will have Derrick Jones Jr. draw attention with a cut as a lob threat, which is probably the next wrinkle of this play gets snuffed out. But, it hasn’t been as successful to this point, probably because Portland doesn’t have a ton of proven lob passers. But, why rush it if works?

The favorite clip of that group is that first one, with McCollum faking a screen for Lillard, and slipping to the basket untouched for a score. As of late, the Blazers have been making a killing off of those types of quick screen slips and split cuts to the basket, catching defenses off guard.

Needless to say, Nurkic is the cog in the machine that makes this play work to perfection. At 7-foot, there’s no crevice he can’t oversee.

Portland ran similar stuff out of those slice cut and motion plays last season with Hassan Whiteside, and with Nurkic in the years prior. But to my knowledge, they weren’t this effective on inbound plays. (Or were they?) Nurkic’s value simply can’t go overstated.

Nurkic currently ranks No. 7 among centers in assists per game (4.0), and funny enough, nearly half of his assists have come through this play. Beyond his assists, Lillard and McCollum have been benefiting from his playmaking skills even beyond that, going 22-of-45 (48.9) off his passes, according to NBA.com tracking.

Out of respect for some of Brad Stevens’ inbound sets with the Boston Celtics and Mike Budenholzer’s reputation in creating plays like this, it’s likely disrespectful to call it the most unstoppable inbounds play, and that’s doubly true since it lacks substance.

Even so, watching the Blazers trick teams through simplicity has become sort of a hidden joy of the season thus far. It’s the type of play one doesn’t expect to be writing about, reading about, or even thinking too deeply into. But, it’s been too reliable a play for the Portland Trail Blazers to be ignored. Here’s to hoping it doesn’t end up on a scouting report in the near future.

Next. Evaluating CJ McCollum's all-around play in 2020-21. dark