Photo / Bruce Ely

The Ringer: Nurkić 'Playing with More Vigor and Determination' Thanks to Fresh Start in Rip City

by Cody Sharrett

Nurkić Fever is alive and well in Rip City. Bosnian big man Jusuf Nurkić has captured the adoration of Trail Blazers fans with his mixture of low-post physicality and finesse to go with passing from the elbow reminiscent of the days of Lithuanian center Arvydas Sabonis. 

In seven games since joing the Trail Blazers in a trade with the Denver Nuggets, the 22-year-old Nurkić is averaging 14.9 points, 8.1 rebounds and four assists per game -- well above his marks of eight points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.3 assists in the 45 previous games with Denver this season. Nurkić has scored 15 points in four straight games for the first time in his career, including two clutch baskets from the block in the final minute to help seal Tuesday's 126-121 road victory in Oklahoma City after picking up his fifth foul on a charge just moments before.

While his offensive numbers have been an added boost to the Blazers' system, the 7-foot, 280 lb. behemoth has given Portland the post presence its sorely missed on the defensive end since the departure of Robin Lopez. In grading all the transactions occuring around the NBA trade deadline on February 23, The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor credits Nurkić's increased engagement and defensive contributions in the Blazers' current run of three consecutive wins:

"The 22-year-old center is playing with more vigor and determination than he ever before in the NBA.

It’s showing up statistically, too. Through six games, the Blazers have a 99.9 defensive rating when Nurkic is on the floor, a number that would lead all teams this season. The Blazers have had a bottom-four defense this season, so it’s a staggering about-face for Nurkic, one of the laziest big men in basketball, to make such a difference."

Read O'Connor's full assessment of Nurkić and every other deadline deal at The Ringer. Nurkić and the Blazers return home to Moda Center Thursday night to welcome the Philadelphia 76ers.