5 musts for the Portland Trail Blazers to contend: 2 – Jusuf Nurkic must live up to his $70 million contract

The Trail Blazers are scheduled to open coaching camp Sept. 27 in Santa Barbara, Calif. In the buildup to camp, The Oregonian/OregonLive will check out the 5 largest storylines that must play out for the group to have an opportunity of contending all over the 2022-23 NBA season, Chauncey Billups’ 2d as trainer.

Previous posts: Damian Lillard must play like an MVP.

Today: Jusuf Nurkic must live up to his $70 million contract

The legend of the Bosnia Beast comprises stories of a dominant pressure the use of his 6-foot-11, 290-pound frame to exert his will over mere mortals in the pursuit of buckets.


The lore, alternatively, additionally comprises cautionary stories of inconsistent play, disappearing acts and accidents that experience value The Beast 127 video games over the previous 3 seasons.

Not horrifying.

These realities surrounding Nurkic positioned basic supervisor Joe Cronin and trainer Chauncey Billups in a little of a predicament ultimate season. Nurkic used to be set to develop into an unrestricted unfastened agent. The Blazers had to come to a decision: Trade Nurkic, let him stroll or re-signal him?

Ultimately, they selected to lock down Nurkic, 28, to a 4-yr, $70 million contract. An reasonable wage of $17.5 million according to yr isn’t outrageous in a global the place middle Ruby Gobert lately gained $205 million over 5 seasons from the Minnesota Timberwolves. Still, Nurkic’s contract represents a vital dedication from the Blazers propped up via trust in his talents and untapped attainable.

Cronin has mentioned he believes Nurkic’s easiest years are forward of him as he enters his high. That must turn out true so as for the Blazers to contend. An inconsistent Nurkic is a detriment. A persistently provide and targeted Nurkic can also be pressure.

Maybe no time all over his occupation has illustrated this greater than all over play at the NBA bubble in the summer season of 2020, when he averaged 17.6 issues, 10.3 rebounds and four.0 assists over 8 video games. Nurkic crowned that off with 22 issues, 21 rebounds and 6 assists in the play-in victory over the Memphis Grizzlies.

But Nurkic adopted the dominance with a gradual get started the following season. He indisputably had memorable moments and robust stretches of play, however an early-season damaged wrist value him 35 video games. Nurkic’s inconsistent play endured all over the 2021-22 season as he adjusted to a brand new offense below trainer Chauncey Billups. That all modified in January, when Nurkic put up 17.3 issues and 12.2 rebounds according to recreation, whilst capturing 51% from the flooring. In February, he averaged 17.6 issues and 13.3 rebounds.

In his ultimate recreation of the season on Feb. 16, Nurkic recorded 32 issues, 8 rebounds and 4 assists all over a win at Memphis.

Portland Trail Blazers vs. Utah Jazz

The Blazers’ Jusuf Nurkic (left) and Damian Lillard glance on as the Portland Trail Blazers face the Utah Jazz in the 2021-22 season finale at the Moda Center on Sunday, April 10, 2022, in Portland. Photo via Naji Saker for The Oregonian/OregonLivePhoto via Naji Saker for The Oregonian/OregonLive

Nurkic, in conjunction with Anfernee Simons, helped the Blazers win 4 consecutive video games after the industry closing date, in short jeopardizing the franchise’s tanking efforts. Then, following the All-Star spoil, Nurkic landed on the injured checklist with a mysterious case of plantar fasciitis and didn’t play once more.

It used to be transparent that Nurkic and the franchise had reached an settlement that the group would re-signal him. Otherwise, Nurkic would had been a ways higher served proceeding to play and lift his worth.

The Blazers are banking on Nurkic duplicating his efforts in the bubble and all over his ultimate two months of ultimate season and, most significantly, final wholesome. It’s been 5 seasons since Nurkic ultimate put in combination a whole, damage-unfastened season. Should Nurkic go away the lineup for a vital period of time, it will be an enormous blow to the Blazers. The group’s backup middle, for now, is Drew Eubanks. He may serve smartly in a reserve function and in spot beginning accountability, however most likely wouldn’t be an excellent possibility for half-hour a recreation over a longer time period.

Should Nurkic’s frame grasp up, he must stay engaged and productive at each ends of the flooring. Billups has again and again mentioned that he needs the offense to sometimes run via Nurkic to benefit from his versatility and playmaking talents. Evidence of that plan performed out past due ultimate season. Add Damian Lillard again into the combine and the risk in their potent pick out-and-roll execution would additionally go back to play. In quick, Nurkic will have to have a lot of alternatives to thrive.

Another component for Nurkic is the addition of ahead Jerami Grant. Nurkic has but to play in Portland with a ahead of Grant’s versatility and athleticism. Grant is a a ways higher finisher than Robert Covington and provides extra top and completing skill round the rim than the plethora of guards Nurkic has performed with in recent times. When the offense is going via Nurkic, he would have the possibility to rating, move to shooters reminiscent of Lillard and Simons, or to find Grant slashing to the basket, which generally is a key a part of the group’s assault.

Nurkic’s playmaking talents and flexibility are uncommon amongst NBA large males. He isn’t on the stage of Denver’s Nikola Jokic, however Nurkic possess a few of the identical talents, minus the 3-level capturing.

Should Nurkic put all of it in combination this season, the Blazers can have one in all the maximum entire offensive assaults in the NBA, in a position to rating amongst the most sensible 5 scoring groups in the league. And that might indisputably assist them no less than flirt with turning into a contender.

— Aaron Fentress | afentress@Oregonian.com | @AaronJFentress (Twitter), @AaronJFentress (Instagram), @AaronFentress (Facebook).

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