Just 20 regular-season games dating back to last season since Jusuf Nurkić’s return from a broken leg suffered in 2019, the seven-foot center fractured his wrist in Thursday night’s loss to the Indiana Pacers. It’s an absolute gut-punch to the Trail Blazers. A starting unit on the precipice of developing chemistry between the team’s core and their new, offseason additions, this is a major setback. For Nurkić, it must feel like a cruel recurring nightmare.
Since the now 26-year-old’s arrival in Portland during the 2016-17 season, this is his third major injury. In March of 2017, Nurkić fractured his right leg 20 games after the trade that brought him to Portland from Denver. He was actually able to return the following month for a first-round playoff matchup with the Warriors but was nowhere near 100-percent. Then it was the broken leg in March of 2019. That forced him to miss the rest of the season, as well as the entire 2019-20 campaign until the restart in Orlando. With Thursday night’s injury, Nurkić and the Blazers must now move forward with a great deal of uncertainty. His return timetable and how Portland will look to fill his role will be crucial.
When Might Nurkić Return?
While initial x-rays revealed a clear fracture, the exact nature of the break was unclear. Reports Friday from Shams Charania confirms the Blazers’ worst fears.
Avoiding surgery would have obviously been ideal. That would have put Nurkić back in action by about mid-February, before the halfway point of the season. Now, it appears he should land back with the team around mid-March, barring any setbacks. Of course, if games get rescheduled or the season is forced to pause due to COVID-19, that would have an impact on exactly how many games Nurkić misses. Regardless, the news that Nurkić will require surgery is a major blow.
What Nurkić’s Injury Means for Portland
Head coach Terry Stotts has some decisions to make. The most obvious choice will be for backup center Enes Kanter to fill in as the new starting center. That, however, will have ripple effects for both the starters and the second unit. Kanter has outperformed Nurkić offensively this season, but his defensive inefficiencies are glaring. Rather than disrupting the second unit and hamstringing the starters defensively, does Stotts plug Harry Giles into the starting rotation? Giles plays with tremendous energy, and this seems like a potential ‘sink or swim’ opportunity for Portland to assess what they have with their young forward.
Once their deepest position group, the Portland front-court is now razor-thin as Nurkić joins Zach Collins, still sidelined following ankle surgery in December, on the bench. As was the case last season, the Blazers are without their two projected starters in the front-court. Will Portland make a move? Teams such as the Cavaliers have an abundance of big-men and seem poised to trade one of them. Do the Blazers exhaust further draft capital or deal a young player in exchange for a stop-gap until Nurkić is cleared to return?
This is a blow to the Trail Blazers. There’s no way around that. At 7-5 with other questions still remaining, things could get bad quickly. Portland plays the next six games at home before embarking on a six-game road trip. February is going to be their toughest stretch of the first half; they knew that as soon as the schedule was released. How they fare over that span will be critical to their playoff aspirations.
With Nurkić out for at least eight weeks, it just got a lot tougher.