After Slow Start, Nurkić 'Excited To Finally Play At Home'

by Casey Holdahl
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It seems a little silly to talk about a player struggling three games into an 82-game season, but with how quickly Trail Blazers center Jusuf Nurkić took to his new team after being acquired from Denver during the middle of the 2016-17 season, seeing the 7-0 Bosnian and Herzegovinan get his 2017-18 season off to a tough start has been somewhat jarring.

After averaging 15.2 points on 51 percent shooting, 10.4 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.9 blocks and 1.3 steals in his first 20 games in Portland, Nurkić is averaging just 13.0 points on 35 percent shooting along with 4.3 turnovers in the first three games of the 2017-18 campaign. While his defense has good — he’s third on the team in defensive rating — his play on the offensive side of the ball has been a bit uneven in the early going.

“So far defensively, I think I’m here,” said Nurkić. “Obviously my second half in Milwaukee was how I should look on offense basically. But I think I’m right there.”

Nurkić’s performance in the second half of Saturday’s 113-110 loss to the Bucks in Milwaukee looked much more similar to what Trail Blazers fans saw last season, with the center putting up 11 points on 4-of-7 shooting, seven rebounds, two assists and a block in 16 minutes. In the 10 quarters preceeding the second half in Milwaukee, Nurkič shot a combined 9-of-30 from the field.

“There is no excuse man,” said Nurkić of his very early season performance. “I play a little bad, shots just didn’t fall in. If they fall in everybody looking good. I know I’m way better player than that and I’m going to keep improving myself.”

It’s also worth considering the differences between the Trail Blazers now and when Nurkić went on his impressive run after joining the team prior to the 2017 trade deadline. At that time, Ed Davis was hobbled by a shoulder injury which would end his season prematurely, Noah Vonleh was starting at power forward and the playbook was culled considerably in order to make the game easier for Nurkić. But now, Davis is healthy, Vonleh, who saw his production increase playing alongside Nurkić, is out with a shoulder injury and the Portland’s playbook is being fully utilized. All those changes, along with simply missing shots that he should be making, helps to explain why the “Bosnian Beast” hasn’t looked quite the same to start the season.

“The way how we play just a little bit different for me, that’s how I feel,” said Nurkić. “But right now we have a full playbook list and that’s different. Before I play ten plays, this just my adjustment. I’m getting there, I’m going to be better with this. There is nothing in my mind that should keep me out. Whatever the team need from me, I’m going to be here man. The game will come when they need me, I’ll be here.”

Nurkić won’t have to wait long considering the Trail Blazers are hosting the New Orleans Pelicans in their home-opener Tuesday night at the Moda Center. With all-stars Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins holding down the Pelicans’ frontcourt, the Trail Blazers will need Nurkić at his best on both sides of the ball in order to extend their win streak in season openers to an NBA record 17 games.

“It’s way easier to play in front of my fans than anybody else," said Nurkić. "We not pick and choose the games, every game is going to be hard. You can see that around the league right now. We care about ourselves and what we can do to be game-by-game and that’s how we looking. We prepare each game so we’re not going to fall away. (Tuesday) going to be a big game for us. And (shucks), I’m excited to finally play at home. That’s what we’re looking for.”