Media day takeaway: Phoenix Suns are all in on Jusuf Nurkic

PHOENIX, ARIZONA - OCTOBER 02: Jusuf Nurkic #20 of the Phoenix Suns poses for a portrait during NBA media day on October 02, 2023 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
PHOENIX, ARIZONA - OCTOBER 02: Jusuf Nurkic #20 of the Phoenix Suns poses for a portrait during NBA media day on October 02, 2023 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) /

The Phoenix Suns 2023-24 media day to unofficially begin the new season was certainly a good one. Between Devin Booker acting like the man and Kevin Durant saying all of the right things about this being Booker’s team, the vibes were great out in The Valley.

One of the key reasons for this was the departure of center Deandre Ayton only a few short days before this get-together, as part of the massive deal that sent Damian Lillard from the Portland Trail Blazers to the Milwaukee Bucks. Ayton is now in Portland, and he’s already proclaiming his greatness.

Jusuf Nurkic was the main player the Suns got back in the Ayton deal, with the organization keen to continually stress what a great fit he will be with the team.

Perhaps this will be true – and on paper it certainly is – but there was a certain company line to the answers that were being trotted out to whoever was asked about Nurkic. By all accounts he seems like a great guy, engaging with the media and saying all of the right things about playing under a defensive head coach in Frank Vogel.

"“He (Vogel) loves to put his bigs in great situations. I’m most excited about the defensive system…. I will definitely do whatever he and the coaching staff ask of me”."

Those were Nurkic’s own words when asked about playing for Vogel and his coaching staff at media day, and it is no wonder the organization would be delighted to have a player with that attitude. From day one Nurkic is committing to doing all of the things that Ayton occasionally did (and hadn’t done in quite some time), and was keen to proclaim this to everybody listening.

Related Story. Grade the trade: Suns move Ayton for... Nurkic?. light

So from an attitude and off the court standpoint there doesn’t look like there is going to be a problem, and the front office will have found this a refreshing change of pace from Ayton. But getting Nurkic on the court is the other, more important, part of the battle, with the Bosnian having played 52, 56, 37 and eight games in the last four seasons.

Setting screens and passing well out of the high post and for cutters like Keita Bates-Diop and Josh Okogie sounds absolutely great in theory. Certainly it is part of the reason Nurkic is here, because that offensive fit is just so enticing. But the odds of seeing this on the court and on a consistent basis still remain to be seen.

Unsurprisingly, the first question owner Mat Ishbia was asked at media day, was about the Ayton trade and how it came about. After talking about how he thinks Ayton will go on to do great things with the Trail Blazers, he pivoted swiftly to Nurkic saying;

"“For our team, Nurkic was a better fit for us. We’re trying to win a championship now, and what Nurkic can do on the court, and what he’ll do off the court in fitting into our organization, he’s a better fit for us. That was the decision we made…. our team got better that day”."

CEO Josh Bartelstein was next up to the podium, and he too was immediately asked about the Ayton/Nurkic deal;

"“We’re constantly canvassing the league and looking at how to improve our team and we thought, as Mat (Ishbia) said, Nurkic is a great fit for this team. His passing ability, how skilled he is offensively, what coach Vogel is going to do for him defensively”."

General Manager James Jones was later asked to elaborate on the fit that both Ishbia and Bartelstein had mentioned, putting forward this response;

"“Nurkic is going to be great for us. His skillset compliments our best guys and more importantly, he is ready to win… we’re playing to win championships, and if you get a really good player who is motivated and you give him an opportunity to win a title, you usually see the best versions of those players”."

It is clear this crucial trio of individuals for the franchise are all on the same page, and that is a great place for the Suns to be. But there was a generalization and rose-tinted feel to the answers that all three gave to the media about Nurkic. Not that they were going to crack open Nurkic’s medical records at that top table, and this is a day of optimism for every team.

But the Suns top brass seem to have seriously talked themselves into a player who not only has a spotty injury history, but who also has clear defensive limitations. Asking Vogel to change how a 29-year-old defends, all while maybe not being 100 percent and over the course of a regular season with so much riding on it, is a heck of a lot to ask.

dark. Next. Rockets nab perfect role player from under Suns' noses

More than that, all three quickly brought up Grayson Allen when talking about Nurkic as well. He is going to work on this roster – but with the greatest of respects to him – he is never going to be asked to play the five and battle elite giants on a near nightly basis.

It is clear then that the Phoenix Suns are absolutely all in on Nurkic for this season, while seemingly either brushing off or ignoring the massive risk that comes with such a ploy. Backup Drew Eubanks and Bol Bol (who thinks of himself possibly as a guard) does not represent the kind of depth necessary to win a championship.