While plenty of Toronto Raptors fans might’ve been rooting for Norman Powell and the Portland Trail Blazers to make it to the next round of the postseason, the Denver Nuggets proved to be too much for Damian Lillard and Jusuf Nurkic to overcome.
Presumptive MVP Nikola Jokic took advantage of poor defenders in Enes Kanter and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, and he helped the Nuggets withstand a few Lillard broadsides in order to take home a series win in six games. Ultimately, Portland’s all-out approach on offense failed them in the postseason.
With Portland having lost in the first round of the postseason in four of the last five years, there could be some changes that take place beyond just GM Neil Olshey and head coach Terry Stotts. Nurkic’s comments might’ve opened the window for the Raptors to swoop in and make a move for him.
Nurkic’s contract is not guaranteed for next season, and he acknowledged that he might not be back next year, citing confusion over the direction of the team. With Toronto in need of a strong center to solidify the interior, they don’t come much stronger than Nurkic, and a starting role in Toronto might appeal to him.
Jusuf Nurkic could be the stud center the Toronto Raptors need.
Nurkic’s defensive rating of 109 on a team that had the second-worst in the league at 119 proves that he was one of the few players on that team who actually made an effort on that side of the floor. 11.5 points and 9.0 rebounds per game this year doesn’t look too shabby either.
Cleaning the Glass (subscription required) shows that the Blazers allow 9.7 more points per 100 possessions when he is off the floor, making him a 97th percentile big defender in that regard.
Nurkic has averaged 14.5 points and 9.6 rebounds with Portland since he left Denver 4.5 years ago. While he has played in just 45 regular-season games in the last two years due to injury, which is concerning for someone who is just shy of 300 pounds, he has proven his quality and effectiveness several times over.
As good as Khem Birch was last season, his career-best averages were still inferior when compared to Nurkic, who had a slightly down season compared to his lofty statistical past. A masterful rim protector and violently aggressive rebounder, the Bosnian stud might find a home in Toronto if Portland decides to reboot things.
The Blazers could either let him go or try to trade him after picking up his non-guaranteed 2021-22 salary. Regardless of what option Portland picks, Toronto should try to find a way to secure Nurkic’s services.
A big man with his combination of size, finishing touch near the basket, and ability to make plays on both ends should be everything that the Raptors are looking for.