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We continue our look at players the Celtics could target with their second pick in the upcoming NBA Draft, number 17 overall. Check out our profiles of UCLA point guard Kyle Anderson and North Carolina State small forward T. J. Warren. For more big men, read up on power forwards Julius Randle of Kentucky and Aaron Gordon of Arizona.
Name: Jusuf Nurkić
Club: KK Cedevita (Croatia)
Stats: 6’11″, 280 lbs.
Nurkić is widely considered to be the third-best international prospect in the 2014 Draft, behind Australian guard Dante Exum and Croatian forward Dario Šarić, both of whom should go off the board in the top 10. Nurkić, a Bosnian national, didn’t start playing basketball until the age of 15, but his size alone has been enough to catch NBA scouts’ attention. He’s also deceptively skilled, and has been compared to the Timberwolves’ Montenegrin center, Nikola Peković, in terms of both body type and, potentially, talent.
Playing for ABA League runner-up KK Cedevita this season, Nurkić averaged 11.7 points and 5.7 rebounds, along with 8.9 points and 3.3 boards in the continent-wide Eurocup Basketball. As of this writing, Cedevita is also in the best-of-five final of Croatia’s A-1 League, where they will face Šarić and KK Cibona, the same team that denied them the ABA title.
While the pure center seemed like a dying breed just a few years ago, with Dwight Howard as its only exponent, European players like Pero Antić, Ömer Aşık, Marc Gasol, Marcin Gortat, Timofey Mozgov, Zaza Pachulia, Peković and Jonas Valančiūnas have done a lot to breathe new life into the position. Nurkić is easily the second-best center in this year’s Draft class, behind only Joel Embiid of Kansas, and that could drive some team to pick him higher than his talent would otherwise warrant.
If he’s still available at number 17, however, Nurkić could be a solid addition to the Celtics’ roster. Boston was frequently beat in terms of physical play last year, and will probably be losing its leading shot blocker and second-leading rebounder, Kris Humphries, in free agency. With Kelly Olynyk still finding his footing against physical NBA centers and Vítor Faverani falling out of the rotation altogether in the second half of last season, the Celtics could really use a bruiser like Nurkić, whose soft touch around the rim bodes well for any team willing to be patient with him as a rookie.