PORTLAND, Ore. — The best stretch of Trail Blazers center Jusuf Nurkic's NBA career has coincided with an increase in minutes.
Generally, when Nurkic plays 30 minutes or more this season, good things happen for him and the Blazers.
Nurkic has played 30 minutes or more in 16 of the Blazers' 40 games this season. In those 16 games, Nurkic is averaging 17.4 points, 12.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.6 blocks and 1.5 steals per game while shooting 48 percent from the field and 77 percent from the free-throw line.
In the 24 games when Nurkic has played fewer than 30 minutes, he's averaging 13.7 points, 9.2 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.1 blocks and 0.9 steals while shooting 52 percent from the field and 72 percent from the free-throw line.
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Surprisingly, increasing Nurkic's minutes hasn't corresponded with an increase in turnovers or personal fouls. In the 16 games he's played 30 minutes or more, he's averaging 3.1 fouls and 2.2 turnovers. In the other 24 games, he's averaging 3.2 fouls and 2.3 turnovers.
Whether this data is a sign that Nurkic deserves more playing time, or that head coach Terry Stotts only gives his starting center more minutes when he's playing his best basketball is the unsolved mystery in this equation.
What's not up for debate is the fact that Stotts has trusted Nurkic with more minutes in the past couple weeks. In the Blazers' first 34 games, Nurkic exceeded the 30-minute mark only 11 times. But in the past six games, he's played 30 minutes or more in five of the contests.
During that six-game stretch, Nurkic has played the best basketball of his career, averaging 22.2 points, 12.5 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 1.7 steals and 1.3 blocks in 31.3 minutes per game, while shooting 59 percent from the field and 75 percent from the free-throw line. The Blazers have won four of those six games, including victories against the Warriors, 76ers and Rockets.
The Blazers didn't see much movement in the latest batch of NBA power rankings, despite impressive wins in the past week against the Kings on the road and the Rockets at home. Here's a look at where they stand:
NBA.com: Blazers rank No. 10 (no change)
What they wrote: The Blazers just completed a 15-game stretch in which all 15 games were against the non-Phoenix division of the Western Conference or against a top-four team in the East. They went 9-6 over that stretch (though with below-average numbers on both ends of the floor) and now get three home games against East teams that are a combined 5-12 in West arenas. C.J. McCollum has been struggling. He had one big game against Philadelphia on Dec. 30, but the last 10 games have been his worst 10-game shooting stretch (effective field goal percentage of 44.1 percent) in his four seasons as a starter. He has shot much worse from 3-point range, but also hasn't been getting to the basket as much as he was through mid-December. Jusuf Nurkic has picked up some of the slack, averaging 22.2 points on 59 percent shooting over the last six games. — John Schuhmann
Sports Illustrated: Blazers rank No. 11 (down 1)
What they wrote: It just so happened that Jusuf Nurkic’s weakest stat line of the week (22 points, eight rebounds, three steals, one assist one block vs. Oklahoma City) was also the only game Portland lost. The Blazers big man took care of business against the Kings (24 points, 23 rebounds, seven assists, five steals and five blocks) and Rockets (25 points, 15 rebounds, three assists). — Khadrice Rollins
ESPN: Blazers rank No. 12 (no change)
What they wrote: The Blazers appear to have a third scorer behind Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum whom they can depend on in center Jusuf Nurkic. Nurkic has scored at least 20 points in five of the past six games, including 27 points against Golden State on Dec. 27. The 7-foot, 275-pounder has also already logged 20 double-doubles in 40 games. — Marc Spears
CBS Sports: Blazers rank No. 12 (no change)
What they wrote: The Blazers have scored 4,449 points this season. Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum have scored 1,870 of those points. That's 42 percent of their team's scoring. That's, um, not balanced. It's too bad that we likely will never be able to see what this version of the Lillard-McCollum show could look like with a third superstar. — Reid Forgrave
The Athletic: Blazers rank No. 12 (no change)
What they wrote (The Athletic's power rankings were a "Would You Rather?" edition this week): Would Portland Trail Blazers fans rather have a redo on Kevin Durant but he ends up leaving them for Golden State in 2016 or Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum lead the Blazers to back-to-back NBA Finals series they have only a 10 percent chance of winning? Portland already had to deal with the Michael Jordan-Sam Bowie comments for decades. Since 2007, they’ve been reminded often that they passed on Durant for Greg Oden. As we know, Oden busted out due to a broken body, and KD became one of the best players we’ve ever seen. So how much solace could be taken in a scenario in which Durant is a Blazer for nine years, they don’t win any titles, and eventually he leaves the organization for the Warriors? Or would that eat at them far too much?
The alternative is everything still happens the same way, but the optics appear to have improved a lot. Durant goes to the Warriors in 2016. The Blazers still manage to persevere eventually and the Lillard/McCollum combination leads them to back-to-back NBA Finals. However, they have almost zero chance of winning the title in the Finals. Instead, they look permanently relegated to runner-up in back-to-back Finals appearances, but the Blazers fans get to deify Lillard even more than they have. All the detractors who claimed the backcourt duo could never take the Blazers deep into the playoffs start deleting old tweets. I think you have to go with KD being a Blazer for nine years just for some peace and mind. That is unless it burrows into their brains and then eventually go crazy. — Zach Harper