When the Portland Trail Blazers traded for Jusuf Nurkic on February 13th, 2017 not a ton of people knew who the 7-footer was. That changed very quickly in Rip City. During the month of March, during the playoff push, Nurkic averaged 15.8 points, 11 rebounds, and 3.1 assist in 29.5 minutes per game. Finally, the Blazers found their Center-of-the-future.
Expectations for Nurkic were through the roof going into the 2017-2018 season after a full off-season program with the team. If Nurkic could put up the numbers that he did in March 2017, what could he do with more team chemistry and a better understanding of the offense?
Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work out the way that fans would hope.
In the 17-18 season Nurkic averaged 14.3 points, 9 rebounds, and 1.8 assists in 26.4 minutes per game over 79 total games. While not terrible numbers, possibly the most concerning one was the minutes per game drop. Nurkic came into the season as the undisputed starting center and soon found himself on the bench during crunch time for the likes of Ed Davis, Zach Collins, and small ball lineups.
There are so many things to weigh when it comes to resigning Nurkic. Below I detail my two biggest reasons to sign Nurkic and my two biggest reasons to be leery about resigning the big guy.
Reason #1 to sign Jusuf Nurkic: Upside
Nurkic will be 24 years old when the season starts. It typically takes big men 4-6 years to reach their full potential and Nurkic isn’t there yet.
For comparison’s sake… Clippers center Deandre Jordan averaged 8.8 points and 7.2 rebounds in his 24 year old season. Fast forward to this past season when he was 29 years old and averaged 12 points and 15.2 rebounds, also having a much bigger role on the team and far better advanced analytics.
Nurkic and Jordan are very different centers, but the fact that it takes big men time to fully develop is true nonetheless. If the Blazers were to invest in Nurkic this summer, they would likely be investing in the hope of continued development and growth.
Reason #1 to not sign Jusuf Nurkic: Small Ball
The NBA is a much different game than it was 10 years ago. Look at the NBA Playoffs and you will see what I am talking about. There were 502 three point field goals shot in the 7-game Western Conference Finals Series. 502! That is approximately 72 per game, or 36 each team. The Blazers averaged 28 per game during the regular season.
A lot of the offensive game plans around the league consist of 4 or 5 guys around the 3-point lines, movement, and flow. Nurkic does not fit that game plan.
Zach Collins fits the small ball mold of center much more than Nurkic. Collins is a big that can shoot the 3 ball (31% as a rookie) and has the athleticism to stay in front of wings on the defensive side of the floor. That was a big reason why Collins started to steal minutes from Nurkic late in the season.
Reason #2 to sign Jusuf Nurkic: Lack of Options
The Blazers are so tied up when it comes to their salary cap situation. If they were to let Nurkic walk in free agency it would be nearly impossible for the Blazers to replace him with a like player.
Going into the summer the Blazers have no cap space, ZERO. With that being said, they can go over the cap to sign their own guy (Nurkic, Ed Davis, Shabazz Napier). The Blazers can make trades, draft, sign their own free agents, and sign guys to minimum deals or the mid-level exception.
Talents like Nurkic don’t come around every day, and they aren’t cheap when they do. The list of upcoming free agents at the center positions doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence. The top 5 guys possibly available this summer at the position are DeMarcus Cousins, Brook Lopez, Greg Monroe, Jahlil Okafor, and Aron Baynes.
The Blazers may just simply not have an option to not sign Nurkic when they look at what it would take to replace him.
Reason #2 to not sign Jusuf Nurkic: Money
The projected salary cap for the upcoming season is $108 million dollars. The Blazers have $93,038,839 (86% of cap) tied up in five players (Lillard, McCollum, Turner, Harkless, Leonard).
Turner, Harkless, and Leonard all come off of the books in 2020. That will help get the Blazers out of salary cap hell. That is… unless they just continue to dig the hole deeper.
Last March Nurkic could have made a case for being a max contact player. If the Blazers were to sign Nurkic to a max contact, they would be over the salary cap with just their top 5 paid players! Plus the length of Nurkic’s contract would be important as well. If it was a 4-year max deal it would just prolong the amount of time that the team find themselves in salary cap trouble.
Neil Olshey finds himself facing a tough summer, but don’t we say that every summer? A lot of what happens this summer for the Blazers hinges on signing Nurkic.
When it comes down to it, I think that the Blazers resign Nurkic to a contract in the $12-$14 million range, that is unless another team brings the Brinks truck to negotiations.