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PORTLAND, Ore. — The Blazers are 3-1 and face their toughest test of the young season when the undefeated LA Clippers come to town Thursday night. Portland is buzzing about the Blazers, so it's time to check in on the squad with another edition of 3-on-3, a weekly KGW feature.
Every Thursday, three members of the KGW sports team answer three questions about the Blazers. You can join the conversation on Facebook during a live chat with our panel every Thursday afternoon at 3. Can't join us on Thursday? No problem! You can listen to it later on the 3-on-3 Blazers podcast.
This week's questions focus on Jusuf Nurkic's slow start, Evan Turner's impressive play and predictions for the next four games.
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Meet our panelists
- Orlando Sanchez is the sports anchor and reporter for KGW News, Sports Sunday and Friday Night Flights. Orlando has covered multiple NBA Finals, NCAA Basketball Tournaments and World Series.
- Nate Hanson is a digital producer who contributes to KGW.com’s coverage of the Blazers, Ducks, Beavers and high school sports.
- Jared Cowley is a digital media producer who writes about the Blazers for KGW.com. Before he came to KGW, Jared wrote about the Utah Jazz and Golden State Warriors as a sports editor at two daily newspapers.
1. Jusuf Nurkic hasn't looked much like the player who won the hearts of Blazers fans during his 20 games with the team last season. How concerned should Blazers fans be with Nurkic's play?
Jared: Nurkic's overall numbers aren’t that bad. He's averaging about 13 points and eight rebounds while playing just 25 minutes per game, and his defensive rating ranks second among all starting centers in the NBA. So, slow start or not, there’s been a lot to like. The main areas of concern are Nurkic's poor shooting percentage (36 percent), high number of turnovers (four per game) and fouls (three per game, but he’s battled foul trouble in three of the Blazers’ first four games so far). There is precedent to believe he'll improve his shooting and reduce his turnovers. During his career, Nurkic has averaged about 3.5 turnovers per 36 minutes. This season, he's averaging 5.7 per 36 minutes. It's reasonable to believe he’ll bring that average back down closer to his career numbers. The same is true for Nurkic's shooting percentage. He's struggling to make shots close to the rim, making only 38 percent in the restricted area. Over his career, he has shot 54 percent in the restricted area. Nurkic didn't suddenly forget how to shoot. He's just had a few unlucky bounces at the rim. As the season progresses, Nurkic’s shooting numbers should even out and reflect his career averages. Nothing is guaranteed but it's safe to assume Nurkic will be fine.
Orlando: Zero concern through four games. Sure, the numbers haven’t been what they were during last year’s run to the playoffs, but he still has a major impact on the floor — especially on defense. The shots will drop eventually, I wouldn’t worry about it this early in the season. If he can stay out of foul trouble and stay healthy, Jusuf Nurkic will be fine. If he’s spending most of his time on the pine, then be concerned.
Nate: I’m not that concerned. Obviously, Blazers fans would like to see him start off hot but four games is way too small of a sample size to panic. He’s still averaging 13 points and eight rebounds per game despite his perceived underperforming. I think he’s just pressing and maybe his “too quick” preseason comment is true. He looks like he’s playing too quick in the paint and that’s contributing to the four turnovers per game and foul trouble we’ve seen so far. But he had a similar start when he joined the Blazers last season before he settled in, and I expect him to settle in again this season. If he has the same struggles a month from now, I would be concerned. The good news for Blazers fans is they haven’t seen a Bosnian Beast-like performance from him and the team is still 3-1. But for long-term success, the Blazers need Nurkic to be better.
2. A nice surprise for Blazers fans has been the play of Evan Turner, who is averaging 13.2 points, 4.2 assists and 3.8 rebounds per game. Do you believe Turner can sustain this level of production?
Nate: Absolutely. I think he feels more comfortable in this offense and realizes the Blazers don’t need him to play beyond his skillset to have success. Last year, he was trying to find his identity and it looked like he was beginning to get comfortable before suffering an injury. He’s played the third-most minutes of any Blazer so far, which means he obviously has Terry Stotts’ trust. And for what its worth, he has the best plus-minus of any Blazer so far. I think the biggest key to Turner’s offensive success has been shot selection. He’s been more particular about which shots to take, and it shows as he’s shooting 46 percent from the field. If you consider what he adds on the defensive side, Turner could be an invaluable role player for the Blazers this year.
Jared: Turner seems more comfortable with the Blazers than he was last season. It looks like he understands and embraces his role on the team, and it looks like he's found a new comfort level with his teammates. He's much more vocal on the court now, directing teammates on both offense and defense. Also, Turner is in his prime. He's 28 (he turns 29 on Oct. 27 — happy birthday, Evan!). It makes sense that Turner would be playing at peak level at this stage in his career. Turner will sustain his level of production on defense (fifth-best defensive rating on the team), rebounds and assists per game. He's always been a good defensive player and seems committed to it this season, and his rebounding and assist numbers are close to his career marks. I think his scoring average might be a little high and will probably come down a bit. Though he's shooting 64 percent on midrange jumpers and 75 percent on right-corner 3-pointers, well above his career numbers in both areas, he's also shooting below his career averages in the restricted area and in the paint. Those numbers will normalize and he'll probably end up averaging between 11 and 13 points per game this season with a slightly lower shooting percentage than his current 46 percent (his career percentage is 43 percent).
Orlando: This is exactly what the Blazers need out of Evan Turner. Some still won’t be satisfied with his production and point to his $70 million contract, but he’s giving the team a little bit of everything. He’s become a primary ball handler, he’s taking some of the workload off Damian Lillard’s plate and he can defend. At times, he’s even been a mismatch against smaller guards. If you can get 30 minutes a night with this type of production, the Blazers will be in good shape. I think the numbers will drop slightly, but I believe he will be in the ballpark with this production.
3. Prediction time! Over the next six days, the Blazers play the Clippers (3-0), Suns (2-3), Raptors (2-2) and Jazz (2-3). Which of those four games will the Blazers lose and which will they win?
Orlando: This week should be a tougher call than last week. Three out of the next four games are at the Moda Center. The toughest challenge to date is against the Clippers. Intriguing matchup with Blake Griffin and Deandre Jordan. I think the Blazers drop that game and bounce back with three straight wins. Looking forward to seeing them hit the road against the Jazz. After that, we’ll have a better idea where Portland fits in the Western Conference.By this time next week, the Blazers will be 7-2 (maybe?).
Nate: I think the Blazers will go 2-2 over the next four games. I think they’ll lose to the Clippers Thursday night. Statistically, the Clippers have been the best team in the league in the opening week. Some of that may be inflated because they’ve played both the Suns and Lakers already, but Blake Griffin has played at an MVP level. Given that the Blazers have failed to stop two All-Star forwards (Giannis Antetokounmpo and DeMarcus Cousins) already this year, I think Griffin is set to have a big night. Thursday’s matchup will also be a real test for the Blazers on defense and on the boards. They rank among the league’s best in those categories so far. Let’s see if they can keep it up against the toughest team they’ve played this season. I also think they’ll lose to Utah on the road. The Jazz may have lost Gordon Hayward but still are a potential playoff team and 2-0 at home. I’ll give them the nod.
Jared: This is a much more difficult stretch of games than the Blazers' first four. The Clippers have played really well early on, ranking first on defense and fourth on offense, albeit against a weak schedule (Lakers, Suns and Jazz). The Suns are playing better after firing head coach Earl Watson and sending sulking guard Eric Bledsoe home to await a trade out of town. They've won two in a row since those moves, including an impressive 97-88 win against the Jazz on Wednesday night. The Raptors rank fifth in the NBA on offense and seventh on defense and were competitive in road losses to the Spurs and Warriors. The Jazz are what we thought they'd be, ranking as one of the best teams on defense (eighth) and worst on offense (26th). They've played a brutal early schedule, but have played well at home, beating both the Nuggets and Thunder. Portland gets three of these games at home, and none of the games are back-to-backs, either for the Blazers or their opponents. This is a tough call, but I think Portland beats the Clippers, Suns and Jazz, but loses a tough game at home against the Raptors.
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