Jusuf Nurkic is a kid in a candy store these days after joining the Phoenix Suns. A connector of the offense and a bruiser in the paint, Nurkic knows that the possibilities are endless when playing with the Big Three of Devin Booker, Bradley Beal, and Kevin Durant. That is, if they all play at once. Wednesday against the Brooklyn Nets, the Big Three took the floor for the first time this season.
With all that candy comes the responsibility to pick and choose wisely. Nurkic knows the task at hand, taking a role that is somewhat of a back seat, but also having to navigate a lot on the offensive end.
After the Big Three debut Wednesday night, it might be a little boring to talk about Nurkic, but to me, he is the more fascinating story to watch this season. Watching his game unfold game-by-game will make or break this season for the Suns.
Let’s pop into it.
The pick-and-roll is crucial in grabbing defenders while heading to the rim, and when Nurkic rolls, he is able to do just that. But in this instance, Nurkic is free to roam after Booker hits a crossing Beal for a more difficult look at the rim, instead of taking the pick from Nurkic.
If Beal were to hit Nurkic after receiving the pass from Booker, the option to spread the ball to Chimezie Metu in the corner for a three is there. Or, Nurkic can receive the ball on the block and work his magic down low. The only thing is Nurkic has a hard time finishing around the rim if you haven’t noticed this season, shooting 44% from paint. That percentage will increase after Wednesdays game. He was able to stay consistent in getting bucket after bucket around the rim.
This is where the issue lies, if Nurkic receives the ball with room to roam, it should be a passing situation. The zipping passes that Nurkic can deliver to his teammates, keeps the Suns offense alive. When he decides to slow the game down and attempt his jump-hook, it can go both ways. He may continue to abuse the opposing center, or miss about every attempt at the rim.
As the game against the Nets progressed, Nurkic was set up by Booker for the majority of the third and at took advantage of the smaller defender, and in the example below, you can sometimes expect the unexpected as well.
The freedom that Nurkic has this season will be based on his decision making, and making the decision to go to the rim with all that room in front of him, was the correct thing to do.
Within the next five to six games, Nurkic will have the assignment in figuring out when to take over, and when to pass the ball up. At this moment, it is about feeling the flow of the game and taking advantage of what is in front of him.
Defensively, Nurkic will need help in boxing out and guarding the lanes, but at times he does his job in causing chaos for the opposing bigs, or driving guards. In the couple of instances below, you can see that Nurkic knows where to be and will contest when contested, but will also need assistance when help is needed.
Nurkic can block, then most importantly start the fast break.
Defense turning into offense to open the half! pic.twitter.com/xtaFfdpnO1— Phoenix Suns (@Suns) December 14, 2023
The help defense will come from Durant, and the other the other Suns wings like Nassir Little and Metu. With the Durant block below, you can see that Nurkic can stay home and body his man, while limiting any chance of his man receiving a lob or the ball in the paint.
Big things are around the corner for the Suns, and it isn’t just the Big Three. What Nurkic has done through the first 23 games before game 24, was build a foundation for everyone else to live on.