Houston Rockets: Takeaways from Game 1 win over Spurs

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Flikr | Keith Allison

The Houston Rockets were impressive in their dominating Game 1 win over the San Antonio Spurs. What are the key takeaways from the performance?

In Game 1 of their 2017 Western Conference semifinals series, the Houston Rockets blitzed the San Antonio Spurs and won comfortably on the road, 126-99.

There are several things to take away from this game, from the Rockets’ offensive explosion to the apparent Spurs discomfort.

With Game 2 on Wednesday, there isn’t a lot of time for San Antonio to digest this loss and make adjustments, while the Rockets are glad the next game is happening very soon as they look to keep up their offensive play and grab a commanding 2-0 lead in the series.

With that being said, let’s take a look at the key takeaways from the dominant Game 1 win for Houston.

1) Keep up fast pace

The Rockets had six days off between ending their first round series and starting this series against the Spurs and boy did it look like that rest helped them. Unlike their series against the Oklahoma City Thunder in which the Rockets lost all five first quarters, they came out with energy and were engaged on both ends of the floor.

The Rockets put up 34 points in the first quarter, and the pace was right where they wanted it. The Spurs played in to Houston’s hands by engaging in the fast-paced, chaotic play early on, which allowed the Rockets to get very comfortable.

Both Trevor Ariza and Ryan Anderson were hitting their threes, which is always a good sign. James Harden was engaged on both ends of the floor, and he ran the offense with such exquisite precision the Spurs had no answer for their offensive attack.

In order to be successful (and ultimately win the series), the Rockets must keep up the fast pace. The Spurs love to slow things down and control the tempo, but if Houston can turn the series into a fast-paced shootout, it will be very comfortable and will win the series.

The fast-paced, run-and-gun styles the Rockets used created countless good looks from beyond the arc and in transition. To win this series, they need to continue to push the pace and make the Spurs uncomfortable.

2) Continue to expose Spurs’ big men

The Spurs are committed to playing two traditional big men on the floor at all times. Well it looks like that simply won’t cut it against the Rockets, and Game 1 provided endless evidence of why that’s the case.

The Spurs started with David Lee and LaMarcus Aldridge, which didn’t go well. Countless times the Rockets would just run screens to get a San Antonio big man on Harden, which allowed the Beard to go to work. Whether it was to score or just set up teammates for open threes, Harden continuously drove by the big man, putting incredible pressure on the Spurs’ defense.

In that scenario it truly is a pick your poison situation. Either you stay home to prevent open threes, or you help on Harden driving to the rim. Regardless of what the other defenders choose to do, the Rockets will get a good look.

Houston attempted 50 three-pointers in this game (hitting 44 percent of them) and a good chunk of them were wide-open looks. If the Spurs don’t change their lineups or coverage of the pick-and-roll, the Rockets will continue to get quality looks from beyond the arc.

This begs the question: When (if ever) will the Spurs decide to play small ball? Putting Kawhi Leonard at power forward and Aldridge at center provides the Spurs with floor spacing, and wouldn’t sacrifice much on the defensive end.

However, there are two issues with the Spurs going small. The first is the simple fact that Gregg Popovich doesn’t like going small, as he did it very rarely in the regular season. The second is that by going small, there will be added pressure on San Antonio’s wings, a position where they already lack consistent, quality players at.

However, the Spurs will have to go small for various stretches of games in order to limit the Rockets’ offense. If Houston gets this comfortable again in Game 2 and captures both games on the road, it could all but end this series.

With Game 2 on Wednesday, both teams will be ready. The Spurs will want (and need) to shake off the blowout in order to save their chances in the series while the Rockets must be licking their chops to get their hands on the Spurs defense (and big men).

All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference

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Houston Rockets vs. San Antonio Spurs Set For the Second Round

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Wikipedia

Well, it’s official. The San Antonio Spurs and Houston Rockets will face off in the second round of the 2017 NBA playoffs. The two teams have long been rivals, as they play in the same division (and state), which has led to numerous memorable encounters.

However, these two teams, despite all of their success (especially from the Spurs), haven’t faced off in the playoffs since the 1995 season, in which the Rockets won and went on to win the NBA championship.

This is a rare playoff match-up between the two teams, and sets up a series pitting two incredibly different teams against each other. The Spurs prefer a slow-paced, grind it out type of game, while the Rockets want to engage in an up-tempo shootout. The contrast in styles makes this match-up incredibly interesting.

The Spurs won the regular season series 3-1, but the Rockets easily could have split the series. They held a double digit lead in the second game at home with a couple of minutes remaining, but went on to have a disastrous final three minutes or so, allowing the Spurs to steal the game.

There are 2 key for the Rockets in this series: 1) continue to play good team defense and 2) hit your three-pointers. In the first round of the series, the Rockets accomplished the first key, but failed to hit threes against the Thunder. While the Rockets still won the series, they must hit their shots in order to beat a much better team in the Spurs.

The series starts Monday May 1st in San Antonio. Both teams should be rested after having several days off between the first and second round, and both teams are healthy. With that being said, I am predicting the Spurs to win the series in seven tough games.

Hopefully the 2017 NBA playoffs continue to excite!

The NBA Playoffs are hitting their Stride

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The 2017 NBA Playoffs are well underway, as most of the first round series are nearing conclusion (or have concluded if you are the Cleveland Cavaliers and Indiana Pacers). With that being said, let’s take a moment to rank the top three first round series in terms of interest and excitement.

  1. Jazz-Clippers

  • This series gets the top spot for two reasons: one, the two teams are as close to evenly matched as you will get in the playoffs and two, the injuries to Rudy Gobert and Blake Griffin have made this series a lot more interesting as the two teams try and stay healthy.

   2.  Rockets-Thunder

  • Being a Rockets fan, I have watched every second of every game in this series. Although the series isn’t tied (the Rockets hold a 3-1 lead with the next game being played in Houston) and will probably end Tuesday night, games 2-4 of the series have been incredibly close and filled with drama. Plus you get to enjoy incredible performances from MVP candidates James Harden and Russell Westbrook.

   3. Spurs-Grizzlies

  • This series was once thought to be a series that ended quickly, as the Spurs jumped out to a 2-0 series lead through two dominating performances. However, the Grizzlies responded by winning the next two games at home, including the best game of the playoffs (and possibly the season) in game four. The two teams will now fight it out in this slow, physical series.

The second round of the playoffs start next week, but we still have over a week left of what has been an exciting first round. Even the Cavaliers-Pacers series which ended in a 4-0 sweep for Cleveland included three exciting and close games.

As the top seeds attempt to avoid upsets, there are always underdogs (and up and coming teams like the Milwaukee Bucks) that are ready to steal the spotlight and the series.

So sit back, relax, and enjoy the end to an incredibly entertaining first round of the 2017 NBA Playoffs!

Houston Rockets: 3 Takeaways From Game 2 Win Over Thunder

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The Houston Rockets pulled off a comeback to win Game 2 against the Oklahoma City Thunder. What are the key takeaways from the thrilling game?

Unlike Game 1, Game 2 between the Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder Wednesday night was a thrilling encounter, with the Rockets using a late game surge to grab a 2-0 lead in the series. This game had everything, including a Russell Westbrook meltdown that overshadowed what was an overall incredible game from the MVP front-runner.

Meanwhile, the Rockets got off to a sluggish start and were down by double digits up until the final minutes of the third quarter. From that point on they were able to keep the deficit to a manageable amount and got hot from beyond the arc at just the right time to steal the game from Oklahoma City.

Just as we did for Game 1, let’s take a look at some takeaways from this competitive Game 2 as the two teams head to Oklahoma City for Game 3 on Friday.

1. Houston Needs To Come Out With More Energy

It was easy to expect a slight lull from the Rockets after their cruise control win in Game 1. However, getting off to a 20-7 deficit is not a recipe for success, especially as the series moves to Oklahoma City.

The Thunder had more energy, which translated to more effort on defense and on the boards, as the Thunder used their advantages in those aspects to grab a commanding lead early on.

Luckily for Houston, the Thunder bench continued to struggle mightily without Westbrook on the floor, allowing the Rockets to get back in the game and make it just a six-point deficit at halftime.

If the Rockets want to win Game 3 on the road to all but put the series away, they will need to match the energy of the Thunder early on to set the tone.

2. Keep Shooting

The Rockets took just 29 attempts from beyond the arc, which is a credit to the defense of Oklahoma City, as they did an excellent job of closing out hard and running shooters off the three-point line.

With that being said, the Rockets still got a decent amount of open looks. Ryan Anderson was 0-for-7 on threes, as his terrible shooting start to this series continues (he is now 0-for-11 to start the series).

Late in the game, Anderson was hesitant to even shoot, as he attempted to pump fake and drive his way to the rim. Anderson’s main value is to spread the floor and shoot threes, making it imperative that he continue to launch them from beyond the arc. After all, he was a 40 percent shooter during the regular season.

The Rockets are at their best when they are hitting threes, which made it no surprise that they took control of the game as they hit five three-pointers in the fourth quarter alone.

If Anderson and Trevor Ariza get hot from beyond the arc, that could spell serious trouble for the Thunder in Game 3 and beyond.

3. Focus On Oklahoma City’s Role Players

Russell Westbrook had a spectacular game, putting up a 51-point, 13-assist, 10-rebound triple-double in the losing effort. Westbrook torched the Rockets in the regular season, so his performances shouldn’t be a surprise.

However, the Rockets have shown a willingness to live with Westbrook putting up these performances if it comes at the expense of other role players getting involved. This was the case in Game 2, as Westbrook was nearly unstoppable for three quarters, leading him to get in the mindset that he must win the game himself.

Westbrook went in attack mode in the fourth quarter, but it was to no avail as he shot just 4-for-18 in the quarter, while his teammates simply stood around watching on the offensive end. The Thunder offense got stagnant, Westbrook struggled and the Rockets were able to take control.

Houston has to be happy with Westbrook getting in to that mindset more often, especially late in games when Westbrook is more likely to get fatigued. The Rockets must make sure the Thunder role players don’t beat them, which is easier to do if Westbrook gets in attack mode late in games.

Game 3 presents an opportunity for the Rockets to essentially put the series away, but the Thunder will surely come out with the energy expected from a team that is on the brink of going down 3-0, which no NBA team has ever come back from.

All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference

Which Teams Look the Best After Game one?

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With game one of each first round series in the books, which teams impressed and which teams need a wake up call?

Impressed

  1. Houston Rockets

    The Rockets cruised to a 118-87 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder yesterday, in a game that shed light on to how the series might go over the next week. The Rockets simply wanted it more, out-rebounding and out-hustling the Thunder to loose balls. The fact that the Rockets won game one so easily without shooting well (below 31% on three-pointers) could spell trouble for the Thunder as the Rockets will most likely shoot better during the remainder of the series.

  2.  Utah Jazz

    The Utah Jazz won game one against the L.A. Clippers on a buzzer-beater from Joe Johnson. This came after their star center (and best defensive player) Rudy Gobert was injured on the first play of the game! The Jazz showed poise, discipline, and were calm throughout as they picked up a crucial road win in the 4-5 matchup between the teams who finished with identical records.

Disappointed

  1. Toronto Raptors

    Another year, another game one loss for the Toronto Raptors, who continue to disappoint their home crowd in game ones. The Raptors lost this game down the stretch to an extremely young and inexperienced Bucks team, something that will surely give Milwaukee some confidence. Toronto’s star players Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan need to play better if the Raptors want to avoid the upset in this series.

  2. L.A. Clippers

    After Rudy Gobert went down with the injury, most people expected the Clippers to run away with game one (and potentially the series). Well, “playoff Clippers” are back in full effect, as the team continues to disappoint in the playoffs. The Clippers need to bounce back quickly in order to avoid yet another playoff collapse and disappointing result, further putting the future of the team in jeopardy.

The 2017 NBA Playoffs Have Arrived

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It’s that magical time of year again. A time when the best of the best go up against each other for multiple games in a week. Yes, I am talking about the NBA Playoffs.

This season, the playoffs bring fans exciting individual match-ups in both Conferences.

In the Eastern Conference, you have LeBron James against Paul George, as the Cleveland Cavaliers face off against the Indiana Pacers. No one will forget the match-up of the two MVP favorites, James Harden and Russell Westbrook, as their teams (the Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder) square off.

Other fun series to watch will be the Toronto Raptors facing off against the young, up and coming Milwaukee Bucks, and the Los Angeles Clippers facing off against the Utah Jazz, a series that most people are considering a “pick ’em”.

For predictions, here is how I see all of the first round match-ups going:

Eastern Conference

Celtics over Bulls in 6 games

Cavaliers over Pacers in 5 games

Raptors over Bucks in 5 games

Wizards over Hawks in 5 games

Western Conference

Warriors over Trail Blazers in 5 games

Spurs over Grizzlies in 6 games

Rockets over Thunder in 6 games

Clippers over Jazz in 7 games

The 2017 NBA Playoffs begin Saturday April 15th, and are sure to bring excitement, nerves, and thrilling action to fans over the coming two months.

The Resurgence of Nene

Flikr | Keith Allison

The 34 year-old Brazilian big man has fit in perfectly in Houston

When Nene signed with the Houston Rockets this past offseason, many analysts and fans praised the move, and rightly so. It was a one year, $2.9 million deal, and it provided the Rockets with an experienced, defensive-minded, physical presence in the front court.

Now everyone is singing the praise of the signing, as Nene has been revitalized in a smaller role off the bench for the surprisingly successful Rockets. This season Nene is averaging 9.1 points and 4.2 rebounds per game, while shooting a career high 61.8 percent from the field in 17.9 minutes per game.

Nene’s advanced numbers paint an even better picture of his performance and resurgence this season, as he is posting a PER of 18.9 (his highest since the 2010–11 season), a true shooting percentage of 63.1 (his highest since the 2010–11 season), and 4.2 win shares (which are again, his highest since the 2010–11 season).

Nene has fit in perfectly in the Rockets’ new system, as he is a great roll man to play alongside James Harden. Turn on any Rockets game and you will see at least 3–4 great pick-and-rolls involving Harden and Nene.

Nene can set great screens, and more importantly, can finish around the rim. This season Nene is shooting 72.6 percent from within three feet of the rim. While Nene is not the alley-oop threat the Clint Capela is, he is better at receiving a variety of passes from Harden and finishing at the rim in multiple ways.

Nene’s role on the Rockets’ excellent bench has been a key this season. In fact, among lineups that have played at least 100 minutes this season, the four that Nene appear in all have net ratings of at least 2.2. The lineup Nene has played the most with is the group of Harden, Eric Gordon, Trevor Ariza, and Ryan Anderson, with that lineup posting a net rating of 9.4 in the 192 minutes it has played.

Nene’s presence on the defensive end has also been important for the Rockets. This season Nene owns a 1.0 defensive box plus-minus and an even more impressive 3.03 defensive real plus-minus, good for eighth in the league among centers. Nene also anchored the Rockets’ best defensive lineup among lineups that have played at least 100 minutes, as the bench mob of Patrick Beverley, Gordon, former Rocket Corey Brewer, and Sam Dekker posted a defensive rating of 90 in the 138 minutes it played.

The Rockets have been strategic and careful in monitoring Nene’s minutes this season, as he has often sat out one game of back to backs and has only played more than 25 minutes in a game twice this season. This strategy has seemed to replenish some hop in Nene’s legs, as he has 80 dunks this season, his most since the 2010–11 season.

And let’s clear something up, not all of those dunks are routine under the rim slams. Nene has been taking people’s souls this year with poster dunk after poster dunk.

Nene’s ability to be the perfect roll man for James Harden, hit mid-range shots, and play good rotational defense has been key for the Rockets this season. Resting Nene strategically has allowed him to avoid injuries and be a reliable contributor on a regular basis.

As the Rockets shift their attention to the playoffs where they will be taking on the Oklahoma City Thunder, Nene’s big, physical presence will be crucial going against the big, physical front-court of the Thunder. Nene is exactly the experienced veteran the Rockets can use off the bench, and if his play during the regular season is any indication, you can expect some dunks, crafty pick-and-roll finishes, and solid defense from the Brazilian big man this postseason.

All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference and NBA.com

Daryl Morey’s Case for NBA Executive of the Year

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Daryl Morey has been vindicated as a result of a very successful Houston Rockets team, making him deserving of the NBA Executive of the Year award.

Executive of the Year is one of the trickier awards to understand in the NBA.

How do you truly award who is the best basketball executive of the year? Do you reward an executive who took a mediocre team to contender status? Do you reward an executive that made a great team even better? There is truly no right answer to that question.

The other aspect about the award that is unique is that executives implement long-term plans when building their teams, making it tricky to hand out an award every season.

It would be better (and more reasonable) to hand out this award once every two to three seasons, which would make it easier to truly evaluate the plans that the executives have laid out for their team.

But, the award is given out annually, meaning that there will be an executive that receives the hardware this season, so why not make a case for the general manager of the Houston Rockets, Daryl Morey.

There are plenty of executives worthy of the award, from Bob Myers (he signed Kevin freaking Durant) to David Griffin (has built a great roster around LeBron James).

However, Daryl Morey is most deserving for the award, after the Rockets have vindicated him and his offseason decisions by vastly surpassing preseason expectations.

Let’s take a step back and review the key 2016 off-season additions for the Houston Rockets:

Initial feedback on most of those moves were not pretty to say the least. I dare you to find a reputable source that gave the Anderson and Gordon signings a grade above C+.

And while the Nene signing and Harden extension were praised for the most part, the appointment of D’Antoni as head coach dragged the offseason moves down in the eyes of most analysts.

Therefore, it’s not surprising that most off-season predictions (including Vegas over/under) hovered around 41-43 wins for the Rockets this season.

Well, well, well how things have changed. The Rockets currently sit at 53-25 and are on pace for 55 wins.

D’Antoni’s system has unlocked James Harden as a point god and a MVP front-runner, the role players are producing as expected, and the team is a serious contender in the bloodbath that is the Western Conference.

The Rockets, long known for their love of three-pointers, have set the record for most threes made in a season, mainly due to the brilliance that is Harden’s passing and the knockdown capabilities of new teammates in Anderson and Gordon.

Anderson is hitting 39.8 percent of his three-point attempts, while Gordon is hitting 37.8 percent of his attempts. In fact, Gordon is the leading candidate for Sixth Man of the Year and also won the Three Point Contest at All-Star weekend, further boosting his resurgence.

Meanwhile, Nene looks revitalized playing as a physical big man off the bench, as he owns an 18.7 PER, 1.1 defensive box plus-minus, and offensive rating of 118.

Nene has been exactly what the Rockets have needed off the bench, a big man to play rotational defense and a good partner for James Harden in the pick-and-roll. It also doesn’t hurt that he can take opponents souls on a regular basis:

Put all of those ingredients together and you get the recipe of a very successful (and surprising) season for the Houston Rockets, all orchestrated by Daryl Morey.

Morey had a vision for the Rockets and went out and made it a reality by hiring D’Antoni and signing Anderson, Gordon and Nene. He ensured that Harden would stay in town for an extra season and has provided him the tools to have an MVP season.

Even though the majority of analysts (and even fans) criticized Morey’s offseason plan, the 2016-17 Houston Rockets have vindicated Morey, making him deserving for the Executive of the Year award for the 2016-17 NBA season.

All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference

James Harden Should Rest More Down the Stretch for the Houston Rockets

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Keith Allison | Flickr

With the Houston Rockets all but guaranteed the third seed in the Western Conference, James Harden should rest more to heal his injured wrist.

At this point in the season, most people believe James Harden and Russell Westbrook are the two favorites for MVP. Both are putting up spectacular numbers and performances, and it could come down to the final two weeks of the season to decide a winner.

Unfortunately for Harden, a recent wrist injury suffered in a game against the Denver Nuggets on March 20 may prove to be the downfall for his MVP campaign.

However, with the Houston Rockets firmly situated in the third seed of the Western Conference, the team should start thinking about the playoffs, especially when it comes to Harden’s minutes and health.

As of right now, the Rockets are four games ahead of the Utah Jazz with six games left for both teams. However, the Rockets’ schedule gets fairly easy down the stretch, with games against teams like the Suns, Kings and Pistons. Therefore, with it being nearly a lock for the Rockets to be the third seed, the team doesn’t have to worry about jockeying for playoff position down the stretch.

Furthermore, the Rockets are a team with high playoff expectations, and rightly so. After exceeding expectations, it would be extremely disappointing to end the season with another first round elimination. The odds of such a result happening increase if James Harden isn’t fully rested and healthy come playoff time.

It’s not exactly clear how much his wrist is bothering him, but Harden has admitted the injury is tough to deal with. It’s more than likely that his wrist is bothering him enough to affect his recent play, which hasn’t been pretty.

In the past three games, Harden is shooting just 29.4 percent from the field and 16.1 percent on three-pointers. Harden has also had six turnovers in all three games as he has looked sloppy and worn out most of the time on court.

Harden himself has said he doesn’t want to rest and that playing all 82 games should factor in to MVP discussions, which is an admirable (yet also potentially reckless) school of thought. It’s clear that the decision to rest won’t come from Harden himself, so someone else within the organization should make it clear that resting even one game can have tremendous benefits in the playoffs.

Again, this could just be a recent cold stretch from Harden that he’ll get out of by next week. But the timing of this stretch with his injury surely makes it seem like one is the result of the other. Resting even two games down the stretch of the regular season could prove to be the difference in the playoffs, with a refreshed and healthy Harden running the dynamic Rockets offense.

Could sitting out a few games hurt Harden’s MVP chances? Possibly. But by this point in the season, most voters have made up their mind on who they believe is most deserving for the award. Besides, if Harden’s recent performances are any indication, him being out on the court during this stretch could already be doing enough damage to his MVP campaign.

Harden (and the Rockets organization) have to realize that the true goal this season is to compete for a championship. The only way that occurs is with a healthy and fresh James Harden running the show in the playoffs. The best way to get there: rest James Harden more down the stretch of the regular season.

All statistics courtesy of ESPN.com and Basketball Reference

The Revitalization of Jusuf Nurkic

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The Bosnian big man is putting the league on notice with his recent play in Portland.

When the Portland Trail Blazers traded Mason Plumlee to the Denver Nuggets ten days before the trade deadline in exchange for Jusuf Nurkic and a 2017 first round pick, many expected the pick to be the real return in the trade. After all, Nurkic had spent the first half of the season stewing on the Nuggets bench playing less than 18 minutes per game.

After a promising rookie season where Nurkic averaged per-36 minute numbers of 13.9 points, 12.5 rebounds, and 2.5 blocks per game, he struggled to stay healthy during the 2015–16 season and was passed by Nikola Jokic in the rotation this season (and rightly so).

However, since joining the Blazers, Nurkic’s role has expanded and so have his contributions to a now surging Portland team. In his 20 games with Portland, Nurkic is playing 30 minutes per game and averaging:

  • 15.2 points per game
  • 10.4 rebounds per game
  • 3.2 assists per game
  • 1.2 steals per game
  • 2 blocks per game

Talk about a stat line. In fact, Nurkic’s advanced stats may be even more impressive with Portland. He is averaging career highs in PER (21.1), true shooting percentage (54.5), win shares per 48 minutes (.117), and box plus-minus (2.7).

Just last month Nurkic was essentially forgotten about on the Nuggets bench and now he could be the key ingredient to a Blazers playoff appearance. Oh how things have changed for the Bosnian big man. How is Nurkic doing this? Well let’s take a closer look.

One of the most interesting things about Nurkic’s new role is how he is being used in the offense. Nurkic has a 25.6 usage percentage with Portland, and with that increased usage Nurkic has been passing the ball like never before. Nurkic had never previously averaged more than two assists per game in his career, so the four per game he is averaging with Portland is an incredible jump.

Nurkic is also posting an assist percentage of 17.7, which blows away his previous career high of 12.3 last season. In his 28 point, 20 rebound, 8 assist, and 6 block game against the 76ers, Nurkic put on a passing clinic that few centers are capable of doing.

Nurkic has been given more of the reigns on offense, and it turns out he is a more than capable passer and initiator. Ironically enough, Nurkic has played a similar role on offense in Portland to the role his former teammate Nikola Jokic is playing in Denver.

it’s extremely unlikely that the Blazers expected Nurkic to be such a force offensively, especially with his passing. Sure, he still struggles to post up strong interior defenders, but if Nurkic sets hard screens, rolls to the rim, and initiates from the top of the key, the Blazers will have an elite offense with him on the floor.

In fact, that’s exactly what the Blazers’ offense has been since Nurkic’s arrival. Since February 15th, the Blazers own the fifth best offense in the entire league.

Now that Nurkic has shown he can contribute at such a high level given enough minutes and opportunities, the trade looks like even more of a steal for Portland. When you consider that paying Mason Plumlee $12+ million per year was never truly in Portland’s plan given their tough cap situation, getting Nurkic and a first round pick is an incredible return.

Oh, and did I mention Nurkic will make less than $3 million next season? And that he’s just 22 years old? Yeah, I think too many people gave up on Nurkic too quickly. And now Nurkic is reminding people why that was silly. Opposing big men, you have been put on notice.

All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference and NBA.com