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Raw Power: Preseason breakdown of Nuggets rookie Jusuf Nurkic

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An in depth look at the preseason play of Bosnian rookie Jusuf Nurkic.

Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

During the preseason perhaps the player generating the most buzz has been rookie Jusuf Nurkic. While this has threatened to get out of all proportion with reality at times, it is seeded in the real potential he has demonstrated in the preseason. In this post I will cover the play of the big Bosnian center who has already shown that while he is raw he is a skilled player capable of sublime play.


Statistics

Below are Nurkics box score statistics from the preseason:

While these statistics give a good indication of his inconsistency as he gets his first taste of the NBA game, and also show some areas of strength such as the rebounding numbers, viewing Nurkic in action probably offers more insight into his game at the moment. Below I breakdown a number of plays from the preseason grouped into four areas which give a good overview of both Nurkic's potential and his rawness (sometimes on the same play).

Passing

While Nurkic's assist total is not higher than you might expect, his passing ability has been an obvious standout to the eye test. He has been able to make a number of slick passes both from the low and high post areas. Combine the passing with the post potential he has shown, and this must have Brian Shaw dreaming of triangles. Nurkic's potential future as a passing big man is a truly valuable asset in any triangle based set.

Play 1. Nurkic runs a pick and roll with Erick Green before moving into the low post as Darrell Arthur receives the ball at the three-point line on a swing pass from Alonzo Gee. Darrell sends the ball into Nurkic in the post, and cuts along the baseline. This allows Arthur to use Nurkic as a screen on his defender and Nurkic delivers a nice overhead pass and Arthur finishes under the rim.

Play 2. Randy Foye throws the ball to Nurkic in the post and JJ Hickson cuts through the lane from the 3pt line. Jusuf threads the needle, but Hickson (likely not yet back to pre-injury bounce) can't finish the play.

Play 3. Nate Robinson probes his defender on the right side and runs a quick side pick and roll with Hickson. He gets double teamed in the corner and Blake Griffin rotates off Nurkic to cover Hickson in the post. Robinson delivers to Nurkic at the top of the key who immediately passes to Hickson at the hoop with a mismatch, but he is unable to finish against the scrambling Clippers defense.

Play 4. The Nuggets swing passes across the top of the key and Gee runs a pick and roll with Kenneth Faried. Griffin switches off Faried but Jamal Crawford lets Faried cut by him to the hoop and instead tries to get back to Gee as well. Nurkic spots the cutting Faried and as soon as Gee passes to him, Jusuf delivers a touch pass down low and Faried finishes with a wide open dunk.

Play 5. Foye and Faried run a pick and roll. Foye spots Nurkic in the low post, passes to him, and Nurkic immediately hits the rolling Faried with a pass and Faried finishes at the rim.

Play 6. Nurkic comes up with the rebound after Nate Robinson challenges DeAndre Jordan. Nurkic looks down court and throws a long outlet pass to Foye who lobs to Wilson Chandler who finishes the break.

Rebounding

As Nurkic's stats above show he has been rebounding very well. He is currently first among rookies and sits 9th overall in rebounds per game in the preseason. This is perhaps the skills where he has been able to show his raw power most obviously in combination with a good box out. Most interesting for me has been how he has been able to use his ability, power and some good positioning to box people out on the offensive end as well as the defensive end.

Play 1. This first play demonstrates Nurkic's power well. Robert Sacre has good position under Nurkic to box him out, but Nurkic uses his power to lean into Sacre as the shot goes up and seal him off from the offensive rebound. Jusuf is then able to bring the ball down with his outside arm before laying the ball back up and in for the basket.

Play 2. Nurkic again demonstrates his power, this time off a free throw miss. Ed Davis is shown the baseline and even with Jordan Clarkson helping out these two smaller players are no match for Nurkic. Jusuf wrestles for the ball and gets the offensive rebound but showing his inexperience he forces the ball back up quickly instead of using his height advantage, and misses a vital layup.

Play 3. On this play Nurkic sets himself up in a great weakside rebounding position. His defender, Taj Gibson, leaves to challenge the shot of Marcus Williams. Doug McDermott attempts to crash the boards from behind Nurkic on the weakside, but Nurkic boxs him out and holds him at bay with ease. He brings the ball down with his inside hand he is able to finish with a quick put back off the glass.

Play 4. On this play Nurkic is outfoxed by new Chicago player Nikola Mirotic. While trying to balance defending his man with defending the rim from the weakside, Nurkic becomes seperated from Mirotic by a good distance. This allows Mirotic to get a good step going to the rim and he is just able to slide around Nurkic and under his arm, grab the loose rebound and put the ball back in for a Bulls basket.

Play 5. Nurkic does much better on this play, glancing at his man Gibson as the shot goes up he is able to wrap around Gibson who is forced to go away from the hoop and then poke back in for the rebound. Nurkic keeps him out and corrals the defensive rebound.

Play 6. This play shows the disprutive value Nurkics hustle can have on the boards even if he doesn't grab a rebound. On this play Nurkic is able to: 1. tip Wilson Chandler's miss to Gary Harris, 2. tip Harris's miss back to him, 3. tip Darrell Arthur's miss so Chandler can rebound it. Fittingly the Nuggets are finally able to score when Nurkic sends a pass from the low post to a cutting Chandler who finishes at the hoop.

Defense

Nurkic has shown both good and bad moments on the defensive end. This is not surprising and his defense should improve with playing and practice time. As with many young big men fouling has been an issue for Nurkic both in Europe and the preseason. This may restrict his court time in the regular season, but some coaches don't worry about their back ups committing a few fouls. So, it will be interesting to see if Nurkic can keep his fouls down enough that it isn't an issue for his regular season playing time. Along with some nice defensive plays I have paired in a few defensive mistakes Jusuf has made to show some areas he might improve.

Post Defense

Play 1. On this play Nurkic does a good job of keeping Taj Gibson out of good position in the post. The Bulls try a couple of entry points and when the pass comes, Nurkic is quick enough to react and bat it away. Unluckily on this occasion it is Kirk Hinrich that comes up with the loose ball and nails the shot, but good defense from Nurkic.

Play 2. In this second example of Gibson posting on Nurkic, Nurkic gets too aggressive fronting on the outside and Gibson is able to seal him. Jusuf gets called for a foul as he tries to fight back under Gibson.

Play 3. In this third example from the Lakers game Nurkic gets away with his defense due to his quick footwork and forces Sacre into a tough shot, but against a more polished player than Sacre he would likely have been punished for jumping all over the place in such a 'lively' manner as this.

Pick and Roll Defense

Play 4. Here Nurkic is caught going to the high side of his player Ed Davis on his screen defense, and so Davis is able to make a free cut to the hoop and finishes with a lay up.

Defending the Rim

Play 5. Here the Lakers run a curl screen handoff at the pinch post. Nurkic stays with the ball and the driving Jeremy Lin off the screen, and is able to block Lin at the rim.

Play 6. Later in the game the Lakers run the same play towards the left side of the court, but this time Lin leans into Nurkic on the drive with his body and undercuts him causing Nurkic to come over the top and commit the foul.

Perimeter Defense

Play 7. On this play Nurkic gets switched onto Chris Paul who decides to break him down. Nurkic however demonstrates his quick footwork and is able to stay in front of Paul who puts up a difficult fade away jumpshot at the top of the key over Nurkic outstretched hand.

Play 8. The Clippers run a double screen curl across the top of the key and Nurkic ends up on Matt Barnes. He forces him right to the sideline and displaying some quick hands he is able to tip the ball away and recover it down low while on the run. He gets the ball to Randy Foye who delivers it back to him, but instead of a strong finish Jusuf shows his inexperience and tries to float the ball in and (with perhaps a little help from a push in the back that goes uncalled) throws up an air ball over the rim.

Post Offense

While still very raw on the offense end Nurkic has shown some great potential in the post. The biggest stand out might be his poise in the post. Nurkic has shown good patience when posting opponents and is happy to generate contact to back a defender down. On a few occasions he has fumbled the dribble in the post but has just recovered without any panic and continued on.

Play 1. This first play is good example of Nurkics poise in the post even in his unrefined current state. After a pick and roll with Harris, he receives the ball in the low post and begins to break down Sacre. He loses his dribble momentarily which draws in Wayne Ellington for a double team, but by the time he arrives Jusuf has calmly recovered his dribble and passes out of the double team to Harris at the 3pt line who nails the shot.

Play 2. This play is a great look at the quick footwork Nurkic has exhibited on court. Arthur and Gee run a pick and pop and Arthur gets the ball at the top of the key. Arthur delivers a quick overhead pass to Nurkic in the low post and he punishes Gibson for going for the steal but pulling off a lightening quick spin and reverse layup.

Play 3. This sequence was probably the most exciting offensive run Nurkic has had in the preseason. I have left the whole sequence intact as it is worth the watch. It begins with a move in the low post where Nurkic again shows his poise recovering after fumbling his dribble to finish with a sweet bank hook over Taj Gibson. The Bulls proceed to politely throw the ball out of bounds so we can view a replay of Nurkic in the post. Gibson then tries his best to deny Nurkic post position, but goes over the top and is called for a foul. The Nuggets take the ball out of bounds and then get it in and back to Nurkic in the low post. Nurkic breaks Gibson down again and finishes with a nice hook off a spin to the baseline.

**

The play of Jusuf Nurkic has been a pleasant surprise to Nuggets supporters. In this series of videos, I have tried to show a number of plays that both show glimpses of his potential without ignoring the rawness present in this young Bosnian center. I look forward to watching him as he develops with more coaching and NBA experience.