3 moves the Trail Blazers can make to replace Jusuf Nurkic

Jusuf Nurkic (left), Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers. (Photo by Soobum Im/Getty Images)
Jusuf Nurkic (left), Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers. (Photo by Soobum Im/Getty Images) /
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The Portland Trail Blazers have a big man problem.

With six games left in the regular season, the Blazers are 27th in the league in rebounding, 25th in rebounding percentage, 22nd in opponent rebounding percentage, 24th in opponent points in the paint, and 27th in total defense.

Jusuf Nurkic has been Portland’s starting center since he arrived from the Denver Nuggets in 2017. For a time, he was one of the better fives in the NBA, but based on his last few seasons, his 7-foot, 290-pound body is appearing to break down.

Over the last three seasons, Nurk has played 37 games, 56 games, and now 52 games this year. During that time, he’s dealt with quad, knee, ankle, foot, and calf issues; and that’s only counting maladies he’s had to his legs and feet.

Those types of injuries – specifically knee and foot injuries – don’t bode well for someone of Nurkic’s size as he approaches the wrong side of 30.

Even when he did play this season, hampered by bumps and bruises or not, The Bosnian Beast looked slower and more disinterested than usual. He couldn’t move his feet quick enough to stay in front of smaller players – a significant problem, considering Damian Lillard and Anfernee Simons are the line of defense on Portland’s perimeter.

There’s a good chance some of these issues stem from, or are exacerbated by, the team’s change in defensive scheme under Chauncey Billups. Maybe it’s not Nurkic’s fault. He could just be a poor fit for what Billups wants to do defensively.

Whatever the reason, it doesn’t appear the Trail Blazers and Nurkic are a good fit any longer – it’s time to consider parting ways.

Whether Portland can find a team willing to trade for him is a significant question, but the Blazers can’t go into next season with Nurkic as their No. 1 option at center.

To that end, here are three moves Portland can make to replace Nurkic and improve its rotation up front.

1. Draft his successor.

Portland is going to end up with the fifth- or sixth-best odds at landing the first overall pick in the 2023 NBA Draft. The Trail Blazers also own the New York Knicks’ first-rounder, which is likely to land somewhere in the 20s.

Whether they use their lottery pick, the Knicks pick, or some combination of both to move around the board, Portland’s best play might be to find Nurkic’s replacement in the draft.

Finding a team to take on the remainder of his salary – three more seasons at more than $16 million, $18 million, and $19 million, respectively – will be difficult. Since the Blazers will likely land just below the salary cap next season, and as a team that won’t pay any sort of luxury tax bill, finding another center for cheap is paramount.

There are a few big men that would be good fits for what Portland wants to do scheme-wise, both offensively and defensively. Billups prefers a more athletic center versatile enough to switch around the perimeter while also providing some rim protection and rebounding.

Someone who can set screens for Lillard and Simons and keep the ball moving offensively is important as well. A lob threat would be a boon, and a big who’s a pick-and-pop threat would be even better.

Victor Wembanyama is the ideal fit and checks all those boxes. Just about every box, actually. If the Blazers somehow luck into the first overall pick, this entire conversation ends quickly.

Alabama’s Noah Clowney fits that mold defensively, while Duke’s Kyle Filipowski could slide right in offensively.

Filipowski’s teammate Dereck Lively II is perhaps the most intriguing option, though. He was a five-star recruit coming out of high school who underperformed with the Blue Devils, especially early in the season.

But he has the potential to combine Clowney and Filipowski’s skill sets as a long, athletic big who has some switchability defensively while also playing as a rim-runner on offense with the potential to develop as a 3-point threat.