Nuggets: Nurkic’s Play Through Three Games

While I was watching the Nuggets crumble last night after putting together a very impressive comeback, I was surprised at how much the Nuggets announcers were criticizing Nurkic. There’s also been quite a bit of negative commentary on Nurkic on Twitter this season. I’ve been finding myself defending Nurkic in these situations (usually through muttering to myself), and I wanted to take a step back and look at his numbers to validate or disprove my passionate support for the young Bosnian. I’ve been extremely high on Nurkic since his rookie season (perhaps even higher on Nurkic than I’ve been on Jokic so far in his career), so I wanted to check some numbers to help identify if I was falling victim to some cognitive dissonance…

The table below summarizes Nurkic’s performance so far this year in a variety of meaningful metrics. I started checking his stats through the first two games during the tail end of last night’s game and finished my research after the game was over (this is why some stats are filled out for the first two games and some are filled out for the first two and the first three games).


Basically, the darker the blue, the better Nurkic is compared to his teammates. That picture has a lot of dark blue on it…

Malone gave Nurkic his most minutes in a game so far this season last night. I was very glad to see this, despite the fact that it was probably Nurkic’s work offensive game… Even with that poor offensive game factored in (he shot a very poor 35.7% from the floor and was just 3 of 7 from the line), his offensive stats are extremely impressive through the first three games. He leads the team in points per 36 minutes, is second on the team in offensive win shares and offensive rebounding percentage, and actually led the team in eFG% through two games! Obviously, that shooting percentage dropped as a result of last night’s game, but he’s still second on the team in terms of 2pt. field goal percentage through three games.

And I love that he’s doing all this with the third-highest usage rate on the team! Usage + efficiency is a wonderful thing. Of course, it’s a bit early in the year to call Nurkic an efficient scorer, but there’s definitely some promise there. And I’d much rather have him getting offensive touches than Mudiay, who leads the team in usage at 27.5% and has definitely been one of the worst offensive players thus far.

When you factor in defense, Nurkic’s value is even more obvious. He leads the team in defensive win shares, defensive rebounding percentage, block percentage, and blocks per 36 minutes. Put it all together, and it’s no surprise he leads the team in PER, Basic and Adjusted +/-, Net Rating, and VORP. He’s also second on win shares per 48 minutes behind Barton (get well soon, Will!).

Obviously, it’s very early in the season and Nurkic is still raw and young. He has a long way to go, and the fact that it seems like he should easily be finishing at a rate that’s higher than his already solid numbers suggests he has an extremely bright future…

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