The final chapter of the preseason for the Phoenix Suns, a 123-100 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers, has been met with mostly positive reviews. The depth of the team was on full display as they trounced the Lakers second team unit in the second half. Three-point shooting continues to be a positive for the team as well, and through five preseason games the team shot 38.3% from being on the arc. Rebounding has been fantastic. The Suns outrebounded their competition in every game in the preseason.
It's only preseason but the Suns out rebounded every team they played in every game.— Rod Argent (@rodargent1) October 20, 2023
Total preseason rebounds for Suns - 229
Total preseason rebounds for opponents - 202
What didn’t go so well was the play of Jusuf Nurkic, and it was a reminder as to what Phoenix lost when they traded Deandre Ayton to the Portland Trail Blazers in late September.
I mentioned it in the Game Preview:
The key matchup in the game will occur on the interior as Jusuf Nurkic is tasked with guarding Anthony Davis. AD is one of the most athletically gifted centers in the NBA. He possesses length that is nearly unguardable, a smooth jumper that pulls you away from the cylinder, and a maneuverability in the paint that not only results in buckets, but fouls as well. Nurkic is a chronic fouler on the defensive end so we can expect the Lakers to attack him early and often.
Having an ability to slow AD down or negate his effectiveness will be a challenge and Phoenix no longer has someone at the five who can match his athleticism. While a win means nothing, it is wins on defensive positions for Nurkic against Davis that we should be interested in observing.
That is exactly how the game played out as the Lakers understood that they had a clear advantage when it came to Anthony Davis versus Nurkic. His athleticism and instinctive shot blocking was on full display. Nurkic, to his credit, kept coming back for more. But with every attempt he was denied a clean shot or a productive possession. He ended the night 1-of-11 from the field for 3 points.
We’ve had glowing reviews of Nurkic this preseason up to this point. His connectivity on offense, combined with the fact that he will be flanked by three elite and efficient scores, is a deadly combination for opposing defenses to attempt to navigate. His rebounding and physicality are pluses for a team that lives in the finesse world.
But if the opposition possesses an offensively superior big, Jusuf will have issues. It’s the part of his game that we knew existed, that he can be a lumbering defender. On Thursday night it was on full display.
How would I grade his preseason? I’ll give it a B. No plus, no minus, just quite simply a B.
He played 18 minutes a night for 4 games, averaging 8.8 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 2.5 assists. His 37 FG% was greatly affected by the performance against Los Angeles – he shot 56.3% in his first 3 games – and 16.7% from deep isn’t necessarily a positive, even for a career 29.2% three-point shooter.
The word “fit” is still used to describe how he will blend in with the Suns team, and it is the guiding principle for how I will approach this season. There will be games like what we experienced against Los Angeles. The hope is that those are the exception, rather than the rule, and that opposing teams don’t look at that as the blueprint for attacking Phoenix. Granted, not every team has an Anthony Davis on the roster and not every team can attack in that manner.
The question we will continue to ponder is will what he provides be good enough? Does he compliment what Phoenix needs enough for this team not only to be a winner, to be the winner? I believe we are on the right track, but we need to see it for real. Thankfully, that will happen when Phoenix plays Golden State next Tuesday.
How would you grade Jusuf Nurkic’s preseason performance and what are your expectations of him this season?
What grade would you give Jusuf Nurkic for his preseason?
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