Bosnian big man Jusuf Nurkic has started to accumulate a great deal of draft buzz on the basis of his great per minute numbers in the Adriatic League for Cedevita Zagreb and the fact that he shows up near the top of some of the analytic translations for his NBA performance. During a recent trip to the adidas Eurocamp, I detoured to Zagreb to see Nurkic in person for the second time (including last year’s Eurocamp). Nurkic’s squad matched up against Adriatic League champion Cibona and Dario Saric, who we covered yesterday. The video above from our friends at Draftexpress provides a good primer on Nurkic’s game.*
*That video is from earlier in the season, and I do not necessarily agree with all of its conclusions, but it provides a very good introduction.
From a statistical standpoint it was not Nurkic’s best game, as he totaled nine points on 10 shooting possessions in 14 minutes with four rebounds, one block and four fouls. However, Nurkic was on the floor for Cedevita at the end as they pulled away on Cibona’s home floor. Most impressively, he acquitted himself well guarding Dario Saric one-on-one out on the floor the last four possessions of the game as Cibona went small with Saric at center. Saric tried to go right at Nurkic and was repeatedly stoned by the Bosnian big man.
Nurkic’s quick feet for a man his size was the most notable attribute from seeing him in person. He measured 6’11.5 and 280 pounds with a 7’2 wingspan at the 2013 adidas Eurocamp. As you might expect, that heft is a big asset for him in the post. Although the Adriatic League doesn’t feature the most athletic big men, the 19-year-old is dominating against men many years his senior in a lot of cases. The key is that Nurkic is impossible to keep out of the paint, and he never settles for a shot outside of there. A lot of his post-ups occur right in the paint, but even if he receives it well outside he simply backs down into position for his jump hook.
Nurkic creates great separation using his body in the post, as guys just bounce off him without him really needing to crash into them and commit an offensive foul. Nurkic then uses his quick release to get his righty hook off before the defender can recover to jump. If opponents try to over-leverage against the back down, he uses his quick feet to expertly spin to his right shoulder, which he does about a quarter of the time. The spin move is particularly effective because he also is strong enough to knock the defender and back him off as he spins.* Another of Nurkic’s pet moves is one that Shaquille O’Neal used to practice, a nice jump stop into the lane past the shoulder of a defender trying to lean on him.
*This is not an offensive foul because the defender is on his hip.
Although he has limited explosion, measuring mere 23- and 21-inch maximum and standing verticals at the 2013 Eurocamp, Nurkic is a very quick jumper and will throw down some unexpected dunks at times when he has an opening. But he also has a tendency to shoot a little too quickly and misses some bunnies when he underestimates the amount of separation he has gotten from the defender. He is also willing to go to his left hand on occasion, but could stand to use it more and become more accurate with it, especially when spinning to his right.
Nurkic was rarely double-teamed, but when he was he showed an ability to find shooters on the weak side for some nice assists. He certainly handles the double better than most big men his age, as NCAA bigs are almost universally clueless in this regard.
While Nurkic’s post-ups are his greatest strength, his finishing around the basket off passes is only average due to the fact it is harder to use his body in those scenarios. But watching the film of these plays was a little less concerning than his low numbers would indicate. He has no trouble catching the ball, but suffered a lot of charges immediately upon catching it as the roll man. Nurkic also had some point blank misses right at the rim, but he was largely open on these shots and just missed them because he rushed. It’s not like he was getting stuffed or unable to catch the ball to begin with. He may not be an elite finisher due to his inability to dunk on people or catch alley oops, but he should be an acceptable pick-and-roll partner in time.
Further out on the floor, Nurkic has not shot well on a limited number of jumpers. However, many of these have been desperation shots with the clock running down. He shoots 70 percent from the free throw line and has a smooth if low release. It is a little funky, but he gets it off quickly and will flash it on occasion from the post on a quick-release fadeaway. I would liken it to Carlos Boozer’s form, although the release is not as far behind the head.
As you might expect based on his size, Nurkic is a monster rebounder, especially on the offensive glass. He loves to carve out space right under the rim when a shot goes up, and he picks up a ton of fouls on offensive rebounds. In 58 games for the year across the Adriatic League, Eurocup* and Croatian League he totaled a 16.7 percent offensive rebound rate. Like a lot of wide bodies, his defensive rebound rate was less impressive at 22.4 percent, though still solid.
*The Eurocup is a step below the Euroleague in the same way that the UEFA Europa League is a step below the Champions League.
We already touched on Nurkic’s quick feet defensively, which he also uses to hedge the pick-and-roll in impressive fashion when needed. Moreover, as evidenced by his stops against Saric he was fantastic in individual defense, allowing only 47 points on 93 possessions of postups and isos against him. He also blocked 6.1 percent of opponents’ twos, and had an unheard of 3.8 percent steal rate for a big man. Overall his help defense was solid, although in a recurring problem he committed too many fouls by not going straight up defensively. With his quick feet, he should be effective cutting off drivers as he learns NBA defensive principles.
But all Nurkic’s positive plays came with constant fouling, averaging an astronomical 8.1 fouls per 40 minutes. For this reason he was unable to stay on the floor, coming off the bench for Cedevita and averaging a mere 16.3 minutes per game. He takes a lot of bad gambles, reaching in to pick up those fouls. Once he learns to curb those impulses, his impressive block and steal numbers will likely decline, perhaps precipitously in the case of the steals. Nurkic is relatively new to high-level competition, so the expectation is that he will be able to stay on the floor as he further adjusts.
Although he has his weaknesses, overall Nurkic is a player of rare physical gifts that have already started to translate into very solid statistical performance on a per minute basis. It is easy to envision him as a post-up weapon like Zach Randolph or Nikola Pekovic in time–a player who cannot have a smaller player switched onto him for fear of being posted up right under the rim. With his quick feet and defensive potential, Nurkic certainly deserves looks in the lower end of the top-10.
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