Based on the surge that he had at the end of last season after being traded to the Portland Trail Blazers, it seemed as though center Jusuf Nurkic was in store for his best-career campaign this year.
However, he hasn’t quite lived up to all of the hype, averaging 14.7 points, 7.5 rebounds and 1.2 blocks over 27.3 minutes per game.
On Thursday, Nurkic turned things around, putting up 21 points, 12 rebounds, an assist, a block and a steal over 28 minutes in a 114-110 comeback victory against the Philadelphia 76ers. Most importantly, he was a viable go-to option on offense alongside CJ McCollum as Damian Lillard was out nursing a hamstring injury.
Although Nurkic’s opponent Joel Embiid had 29 points, nine rebounds and three assists on the night, it was Nurkic who stood out down the stretch. It’s also worth noting that Embiid went 6-of-12 from three-point range and picked up 23 points away from the paint (18 from three, five from the free throw line). Nurkic’s elite post defense was a major reason for that.
As perhaps the most physical center in the entire NBA, Nurkic found himself in a number of dramatic, scrappy situations on the court on Thursday and even had to leave to receive stitches following a shot to the nose that he took from J.J. Redick.
As you might imagine, Nurkic has a negative opinion of Embiid’s finessed style of play.
According to Dan Feldman of Pro Basketball Talk, Nurkic had some strong words about Embiid after the game.
"He tries to be more famous than a player. I respect him. He's a good player. He's not about tough. He's a skill player, who is getting tired, it looks like. And when you play defense on him and play offense on him and attack him, he's getting tired more,” the big man said.
Embiid has famously been placed on restrictions to limit his workload over the course of his young career. It was recently revealed that he never practices with the team in addition to sitting out one half of most back-to-backs.
Off the court, he has developed a great deal of fame, perhaps more than any other young player. He’s also one of the most-followed NBA players on social media. Nurkic seems to think that he might be putting in more effort in that area than in the gym.
On Friday night, Embiid appeared to be extremely fatigued in the fourth quarter and settled for a number of long-range shots down the stretch as a result. Although a few fell in, it was obvious that Nurkic was in much better physical condition than Embiid, which must have come as a surprise to most people watching.
As of Friday night, Embiid had not responded or reacted to Nurkic’s claim. Therefore, an official feud hadn’t started.
One might not materialize, either. The two teams are not scheduled to meet again this season unless they square off in the NBA Finals, which seems nearly impossible based on what both teams have showed so far.