Portland Trail Blazers: Can Jusuf Nurkic be trusted against the Denver Nuggets?

Jusuf Nurkic, Portland Trail Blazers Mandatory Credit: Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports
Jusuf Nurkic, Portland Trail Blazers Mandatory Credit: Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports /
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Portland Trail Blazers Denver Nuggets Rondae Hollis-Jefferson
Portland Trail Blazers, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images) /

The Portland Trail Blazers turn to Rondae Hollis-Jefferson to ignite their bench

Through the first three games, Denver’s bench has been shredding Portland’s. The Nuggets are one of the deepest teams in the league and have remained committed to that depth through the series. At least 10 different players have received playing time for the Nuggets in each game.

For Portland, Coach Stotts has cut his rotation down to eight players. For the first three games, it was Carmelo Anthony,  Anfernee Simons, and Enes Kanter coming off the pine. In Game 4, Stotts went with Rondae Hollis-Jefferson over Kanter to play reserve big.

RHJ has had one of the most interesting NBA careers in league history. He was originally drafted in 2014 in the late first-round by the Brooklyn Nets, in hopes that he would develop into a solid 3-and-D wing. His jump shot never improved and eventually, his offensive struggles pushed him out of the Nets rotation.

He rebuilt his career on the Toronto Raptors, changing his role to an energy guy and smallball big. Despite the success he experienced in that role, he was released by Toronto and waived by the Minnesota Timberwolves in the 2020 offseason.

Now, he’s got the chance to prove himself a meaningful contributor for Portland who picked him up in preparation for the postseason.

RHJ, even though smaller, is a significant defensive upgrade over Kanter. His size, athleticism, and effort on that end of the court, gives him the ability to cover guards and smaller bigmen.

Kanter has taken enough damage through the first three games of this series that I feel bad suckering him again here. But not only has he proved that he’s a terrible, truly atrocious option when guarding Jokic, he’s also shown that he can’t guard Paul Millsap or JaMychal Green either.

In Game 4, we saw RHJ effectively guarding players as quick as Monte Morris and as big as Paul Millsap. On offense, he won’t be expected to do much besides screen, finish dump-offs, and maybe score off some put-backs.

He only put up 2 points and 2 rebounds, but most importantly, the lead didn’t dissipate as soon as he checked in.

So far, RHJ has added much needed balance to Portland’s bench. But if Nurkic gets in foul trouble again, how will Stotts respond? Is RHJ really an upgrade over Kanter against a player of Jokic’s caliber? Only time will tell.