Jusuf Nurkic, 6-foot-11 center, Bosnia
2013-14 stats: (Adriatic) 11.7 PPG, 0.7 APG, 5.7 RPG, 1.1 SPG, 0.8 BPG .545 FG%, .701 FT%
After Joel Embiid, the potential top pick, the best center in the draft might be Nurkic, a physical, true back-to-the-basket big man. The 20-year-old more than held his own in the Adriatic League this past season and with his massive frame, he could make an impact in the NBA sooner than some of his fellow draft prospects. There are some concerns about Nurkic’s game, however, as both conditioning and maturity are reportedly issues, not to mention that plodding post players are no longer considered as valuable as in the past.
Career highlights: Playing for Cedevita, Nurkic emerged as a fairly consistent double-figure scorer this past season, posting averages of 11.7 points and 5.7 rebounds in just 16.6 minutes per game in league play, along with shooting 54.5 percent from the field. While he had some up-and-down stretches and didn’t have many huge statistical outbursts, he proved to be a reliable low-post scoring option on a team full of established overseas veterans. Additionally, Nurkic helped his team to a league title in the postseason earlier this month, giving him a taste of winning at the formative stages of his professional career.
Strengths: Nurkic puts his mammoth size to use on the floor, playing with a bull-in-a-china-shop mentality in the paint, whether to score in the post or to employ a physical brand of defense. Equipped with a softer touch and better footwork than one would expect, Nurkic is actually fairly skilled on the block and is an efficient interior scorer. While he isn’t a major shot-blocking presence, his size is a deterrent at the rim and though he could still improve as a rebounder, he’s a force to be reckoned with on the boards.
Weaknesses: Although Nurkic’s size is a weapon, it can also be used against him, as he doesn’t change ends especially well and isn’t a factor in transition on either side of the ball. His physical nature can also work against him, as he’s prone to foul trouble and tends to compensate for his lack of athleticism by trying to push around opponents, which is often an ineffective strategy for him. Negative expressions of body language and an overall immature demeanor have been attributed to him, something that will need to be addressed in the near future, particularly before he arrives in the NBA.
Draft projection: Due to a lack of elite centers in the draft, Nurkic’s range is anywhere from the late lottery to the early 20s, depending on team needs and the belief, or lack thereof, that he will be in the U.S. by the fall to play his rookie year. Capable of at least clogging the lane at the present, as long as he addresses the aforementioned concerns about his attitude and conditioning, Nurkic’s post-up scoring and physical presence have a definite place in the NBA, even as the league is utilizing an increasing number of agile big men that face the basket. There will surely be an adjustment period from playing in Europe, as well as a language barrier, but if there’s patience in his development process, Nurkic can evolve into an impactful, starting-caliber player.