PORTLAND, Ore. — Portland Trail Blazers center Jusuf Nurkic had a tough game Sunday.
Not only did the Blazers center struggle to defend Toronto Raptors big man Jonas Valanciunas without fouling — Nurkic played only 21 minutes, mostly because of foul trouble — but he also lost two teeth when he was smacked by Toronto's P.J. Tucker in the second half.
When the final buzzer sounded on the Blazers' 112-106 loss, Nurkic had played a rather nondescript game, finishing with eight points on 3-of-9 shooting, four rebounds, two assists, a steal and four fouls in 21 minutes.
A peek at his advanced stats made it look even worse. While the Blazers' offense performed at an elite level with Nurkic on the court (122.6 offensive rating, which means the team scored at a rate of 122.6 points per 100 possessions), the defense was abysmal during that same time (123.6 defensive rating).
Nurkic's pedestrian performance Sunday can't erase the impressive start to his Blazers' career. Nor can it slow down the hype attached to Portland's newest player by Blazers fans, who have latched onto the young center's promise and potential during an otherwise disappointing season.
The Blazers have played only three games with Nurkic and his impressive play with the team certainly must be judged with the caveat that it's a small sample size by which to judge. But looking at Nurkic's performance during the first two and a half seasons of his career in Denver, the way he has performed in Portland shouldn't surprise anyone.
Nurkic made the NBA All-Rookie team after his first season. He missed 50 games in his second season recovering from a knee injury. In his third season, he fell out of the starting lineup as Nikola Jokic emerged and then fell out of the rotation because of the way he dealt with the demotion.
Whenever Nurkic was given playing time in Denver, though, he consistently demonstrated an ability to produce.
Extrapolating a player's statistics over 36 minutes per game is not always a reliable way to determine how a player would perform if given more playing time, but Nurkic's per-36 numbers — 15.3 points, 11.9 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.5 steals and 2.1 blocks — over his career are impressive nonetheless.
A more reliable barometer is how a player performs in games where he plays more minutes. If you look at Nurkic's performance when he played at least 26 minutes during his career in Denver, you see an accurate representation of what can be expected when he gets more playing time.
- 2016-17: Nurkic played 26 minutes or more only seven times this season with the Nuggets, which demonstrates how far he fell out of favor in Denver. But in those seven games, he averaged 15.1 points, 10.4 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.6 blocks and 1.0 steal.
- 2015-16: Nurkic played 26 minutes or more in only five games (he played in only 32 games all season because of injuries), but again, he showed a lot in those handful of games, averaging 14.2 points, 8.4 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 2.0 steals and 2.1 blocks.
- 2014-15: In 11 games in which Nurkic played 26 minutes or more during his rookie season, he averaged 11.2 points, 10.0 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.3 blocks.
Those are consistent numbers over enough games (23) to make an accurate analysis. When Nurkic has been given more playing time, he has produced. In Portland, he hasn't shown anything different.
In the first three games he's played with the Blazers, Nurkic has averaged 25.7 minutes per game. While playing in a new system with new teammates, and trying to get back in shape after falling out of the rotation in Denver, Nurkic has averaged 11.0 points, 8.0 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 2.3 steals and 1.0 block per game.
Nurkic's advanced statistics look even better. Even taking into account his lackluster performance in Sunday's loss to Toronto, in three games with Portland, his offensive rating is 117.3 and his defensive rating is a stunning 91.6. In the 76 minutes Nurkic has played since joining the team, Portland has outscored its opponents by 44 points.
The bottom line is when Nurkic has been on the floor, the Blazers have played at an extremely high level.
Can Nurkic keep it up? Considering his track record, it seems likely. His performance may even improve as he plays his way back into basketball shape. Blazers fans can believe the hype.