The Portland Trail Blazers fell to the Utah Jazz Wednesday night 88-111. Utah used a balanced scoring attack, with 6 players scoring in double figures. The Blazers struggled offensively for most of the night. When your star backcourt combines for 11/38 shooting from the field, it’s going to be a rough night.
The Blazers struggles continued, but there was one bright spot in Wednesday night’s game. That was newly acquired Jusuf Nurkic. Nurkic shot a perfect 5/5 from the field. He scored a bench high of 13 points, added 7 rebounds, 3 steals, 1 block and a beautiful 1 handed touch pass for an open Allen Crabbe three. His +/- line of +18 was the highest of any Blazers player. In fact, Pat Connaughton was the only other Blazers player with a positive +/- with a +5 line.
I am a fan of Nurkic’s game, judging by his first action as a Blazer. He played decent defensively, showing some versatility when switching to guard smaller/quicker defenders. His offensive skill set is going to give the Blazers a different look offensively. He really played well on that side of the ball, minus the few turnovers. Which I think will improve with getting more acclimated to his teammates and the plays.
Nurkic is a big body. Tough to get around on screens. He can roll to the basket using his strength to overpower his defender, step out and knock down the jumper (hit a 20-footer in his Blazers debut), and he has the agility to work around defenders. He can play with his back to the basket. He showed some nice post moves. He showed all of this in a 21 minute debut. He is going to be an asset to this offense.
When playing with his back to the basket, he may not demand a double team, but he’s going to draw defenders in. There was one play in particular where this happened. Nurkic went to back down his defender, drew the defender in and passed out to CJ McCollum, who swung it over to an open Connaughton. Connaughton missed the 3, but was fouled by a late rotated George Hill. Pat knocked down the free-throws. This all happened because of Nurkic drawing in the defender and making the right play.
Needless to say, I was very impressed by the debut of Jusuf Nurkic on Wednesday night. The Blazers have been in need of an offensive presence down low. Nurkic looks the part thus far. He will fill that void. He played pretty well defensively as well. There was some missed rebounds and he was a little slow on a few rotations, but he wasn’t the big issue for Portland on that side of the ball.
Blazers fans should be excited to see how this Nurkic trade turns out. Mason Plumlee was playing well and all, but I can already see Nurkic fitting in better and improving this offense. I can see why they made the trade. Plumlee was going to be a free agent this summer, they’re over the cap as we speak. Paying Plumlee would have taken Portland over the luxury tax. For what? To stay mediocre? That’s what the team was looking like and it needed change. Nurkic is a young 22. His cheap contract has him signed through 2018. Neil Olshey took what he could for an upcoming free agent. Right now, it looks like he might have gotten back just what Portland needed and then some (a 2017 first round pick).