Sixers: Top 5 free agents in the Northwest Division

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(Photo by Cameron Browne/NBAE via Getty Images)
(Photo by Cameron Browne/NBAE via Getty Images) /

No. 2: Jusuf Nurkic, Portland Trail Blazers

Nurkic put himself in the Defensive Player of the Year conversation last season, emerging as an important piece in Portland’s rise to the No. 3 seed. His long-term fit is up in the air, but he established himself as one of the most physical big man defenders in the league.


There are questions about Nurkic’s ability to survive in the modern NBA, but his defense is valuable nonetheless. He’s one of the few players capable of matching Joel Embiid‘s physicality on the block, using his strength to alter shots around the paint.

He showed nice instincts as a shot-blocker, averaging 1.4 blocks in just 26.4 minutes per game. Poor lateral quickness is a deal-breaker for some teams, but Nurkic proved himself to be a starting-caliber big in most cities. He also crashed the boards hard, averaging 9.0 per game.

On the offensive end, Nurkic has some underrated skills. He’s an above-average passer on the low block, while his ability to power through contact and finish with touch makes him a viable scorer in the post. He even flashed a mid-range jumper last season.


Nurkic can get taken off the floor by some teams, especially in the playoffs. He lacks the lateral quickness and switch-ability needed to thrive against smaller lineups, which hurts his value in the modern NBA.


The Sixers are looking for center depth, but Nurkic isn’t the answer. Even if he ends up accepting mid-level offers, most teams will view him as a starting center. He was already upset playing behind Nikola Jokic in Denver, so expecting that to change in Philly would be ill-advised.

With that said, he actually averaged (slightly) more defensive win shares than Embiid last season. He is more than competent and should be able to carve out a significant role wherever he goes. If that did end up being Philly, his passing and post-up game could mesh nicely with Brett Brown’s system.