2 Former Trail Blazers thriving, 3 struggling elsewhere to start 2023-24

Damian Lillard, Milwaukee Bucks (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
Damian Lillard, Milwaukee Bucks (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images) /
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The Portland Trail Blazers are 3-8 to begin the 2023-24 season, so it’s fair to say they’ve had some early issues. Their only three wins came in consecutive games against the Toronto Raptors, Detroit Pistons and Memphis Grizzlies, so they’ve also thrived, at least for a brief period.

On an individual level, Shaedon Sharpe’s game has improved dramatically since his rookie season. Skylar Mays has been a revelation recently. Jerami Grant has been playing some of the best offensive basketball of his career.

But Scoot Henderson struggled out of the gate and is now injured. Anfernee Simons played on opening night and won’t take the floor again until at least mid-December. Robert Williams III’s season is over after playing only a handful of games in a Blazers’ jersey. Malcolm Brogdon has both thrived and struggled after starting strong and then tweaking his hamstring.

Brogdon, Williams, Henderson and Mays are only in Portland because of the franchise’s wild offseason that saw acquisitions and departures play out in droves once the Damian Lillard trade finally dropped.

Lillard, Jusuf Nurkic, Josh Hart, Drew Eubanks and Cam Reddish, for example, all played significant minutes for the Blazers at one time or another last season and are now plying their basketball trades elsewhere.

How are those former Trail Blazers doing on their new squads? Are they thriving like Sharpe and Grant or struggling like Scoot?

Struggling former Blazer No. 1: Jusuf Nurkic, Phoenix Suns

Jusuf Nurkic was part of the three-team deal that sent Lillard to the Milwaukee Bucks. The long-time Blazers’ center swapped places with Deandre Ayton and joined one of the few remaining NBA superteams in Phoenix alongside Kevin Durant, Devin Booker and Bradley Beal.

The Suns’ hope was that Nurkic would be a better passer and connector than Ayton, that he would be a stronger deterrent at the rim and would demand fewer touches. So far, so average.

Nurk has stayed healthy through the Suns’ first 11 games and has played an average of 27.1 minutes – more than he did in Portland last season. He’s understandably getting fewer shot attempts, but instead of his efficiency rising like you would assume, it’s dropped dramatically.

The Bosnian Beast is only shooting 39.1 percent from the floor, and after showing an improved jumper from deep last year, is connecting on 26.7 percent of his 2.7 3-point attempts.

Nurkic is averaging 4.5 assists, but his 8.8 rebounds per night are his lowest since his time with the Denver Nuggets. Ditto for his scoring average of 9.5 points. His rim protection isn’t what Phoenix hoped it would be either at fewer than 1 block per game.

Nurk should get a decent shot at winning a championship this season, but individually, he’s having his worst year since before he became a Blazer during the 2016-17 campaign.