Jusuf Nurkic Ranked Among Second Tier of NBA Free Agent Centers

With less than a week away from the NBA Draft, the cards will soon start to fall in a Portland Trail Blazers offseason ripe with potential moves and pressure to build around Damian Lillard.

One of those potential moves is whether to re-sign unrestricted free agent Jusuf Nurkic at center. According to a recent piece for The Athletic, John Hollinger ranked Nurkic as the fourth-best free agent center on the market, but likely the best the Blazers can get at the position.

In Tier II of Hollinger’s rankings, defined as “more than midlevel, less than max” players, he put Nurkic’s likely value for the upcoming season at about $17 million. Hollinger described Nurkic as a cost-effective, safe option for Portland — that is if another suitor doesn’t jack up the price.

In theory, there are cap-room scenarios where the Blazers let Nurkic walk to have the space to chase other players. In reality, Portland’s best play by far would be to re-sign Nurkic at a number in the mid-teens and use its other cap options (including a huge trade exception) to rebuild the team this offseason.

Nurkic seems mostly recovered from a devastating leg injury two years ago and was just rounding into form last winter when the Blazers’ season went off the rails. He turns 28 in August and has consistently put up mid-tier starting center numbers, so a long-term deal for him doesn’t feel particularly risky either. The only real question is if another team tries to get involved in the bidding and nab him away from Portland, and how high that number would have to go to be successful.

Toronto Raptors center Chris Boucher and New York Knick Mitchell Robinson ranked ahead of Nurkic in Tier II.

Phoenix Suns restricted free agent Deandre Ayton was listed at No. 1 on the list and the only center in Tier I, which included players worthy of a max contract.

Several former Blazers appeared elsewhere on the list. Mason Plumlee and Hassan Whiteside ranked No. 10 and No. 13 respectively, as players “worth more than the minimum,” but “less than midlevel.”

Lamarcus Aldridge, Robin Lopez, and Ed Davis all appeared in Tier V, including players worth a veteran minimum deal. Hollinger said Aldridge, even in his older age, is still an offensive presence.

The last known practitioner of the pick-and-pop mid-range jumper, Aldridge is deadly enough from that range that he shot 57.8 percent on 2s last season. He’ll be 37 years old next year, has had trouble staying on the court and can’t defend in space anymore, all limitations which likely will result in another one-year minimum deal. He can still get some buckets, though.

Blazers free agent center Drew Eubanks — who filled in admirably for Portland in the latter half of the season on a series of 10-day contracts — was not included in the rankings.

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