Jusuf Nurkic will only get the credit he deserves when he is gone

The Phoenix Suns might be a top-heavy roster, but center Jusuf Nurkic brings a lot to this group, and it will only be appreciated when he is gone.
Minnesota Timberwolves v Phoenix Suns
Minnesota Timberwolves v Phoenix Suns / Chris Coduto/GettyImages

The Phoenix Suns are in the midst of a tough opening round playoff battle against the Minnesota Timberwolves, and it is unclear if they're going to have enough to go through to the next series. Kevin Durant was fantastic in Game 1, while Bradley Beal also came to play.

It was a different story for Devin Booker though, as the Timberwolves did an excellent job of not allowing him to get into a groove. With Anthony Edwards having a breakout performance against his hero Durant, the Suns are going to need a big response from many of their players if they want to make thie series a competitive one.

Then there is center Jusuf Nurkic - who quietly went about his business as he has all season - and who we now know won't get any love until he's no longer around.

Nine points and four rebounds isn't exactly a stat line that is going to do the rounds on national media circuits, but Nurkic was about much more than just the basic numbers for the Suns. Just like he has been all season. Starting with the obvious, and the franchise just does not have another player like him.

A big, lumbering cement block of a human, who goes into the paint time and time again to battle it out with other giants. Nurkic's backup is Drew Eubanks, who does not have the physicality to do what Nurkic can each night. Which is play as a more traditional center compared to the likes of Chet Holmgren and Victor Wembanyama, but it is a role he accomplishes effectively.

Beyond that, the likes of Eric Gordon and Bol Bol just aren't anything like Nurkic either. Which is why his Game 1 performance against the Timberwolves needs to be examined again, without the context of how many points he scored or boards he grabbed.

What head coach Frank Vogel is asking Nurkic to do is battle Rudy Gobert - and to a lesser extent Karl-Anthony Towns - on any given possession. Going against Gobert when he got the chance meant the Frenchman was unable to go out and contest the shots of Beal and Booker - although switching Durant onto him did bring some success for the Suns - though Gobert had his moments as well.

What Nurkic is also tasked with doing on some possessions - especially when one of Booker or Beal is gone to the bench - is to handle the basketball that little bit more. His ability to do so, and to make the right pass and follow it up with subsequent screens, is not something you expect of a more traditional big man like Nurkic.

Imagine if Deandre Ayton - a former first overall pick - was in this series instead as an example. There's no way he'd tussle with Gobert while knowing he won't see much of the ball, and he wouldn't then be able to have a positive impact on a possession when he has the ball in had so far from the basket.

Ayton was and is an incredibly athletic player, and one who helped the Suns get to the 2021 NBA Finals. But he's just not willing to do all of the little things that Nurkic has all season. Nurkic played 27 minutes in the game, but this wasn't a case of him getting played off the court. Rather, it was coach Vogel perhaps trying too hard to do something different, with Durant spending time at the five.

This is a tactic that worked in spurts during the regular season, but the Timberwolves were never an opponent they had to break that out against. So it will be no surprise when Nurkic plays more minutes in other games in this series, before perhaps not seeing the court in fourth-quarters at all in a different matchup should the Suns advance.

Next. 3 adjustments the Suns have to make for Game 2. 3 adjustments the Suns have to make for Game 2. dark

All of which is to say, Jusuf Nurkic is only going to get the credit he deserves when he's no longer in The Valley. He has remained healthier than anybody thought possible, and during the regular season essentially gave this group 11/11 each and every night. He always said he'd have no problem taking an even more diminished offensive role once the playoffs started, and he's backed that chat up.

It's not glamorous and it won't sell tickets, but Nurkic's game was reliable - if not always effective - against the Timberwolves. With Grayson Allen's shot not falling and Booker being guarded well by Jaden McDaniels, Nurkic was tasked with crashing into Gobert possession after possession on both end. That he did so without complaint will only be missed when he's not longer around to do it.