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Jusuf Nurkić DOMINATED Deandre Ayton Last Night

What better way to determine who fits in the best on the Suns between Jusuf Nurkić and Deandre Ayton than a head-to-head matchup?

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Well, that’s exactly what we got to see last night in Nurkić’s return to Portland in Phoenix’s third preseason game.

The two were essentially traded for each other in a three-team deal just over two weeks ago. Phoenix received Nurkić, Nassir Little and Keon Johnson from the Blazers in this trade, while Ayton and rookie Toumani Camara ended up in Portland. 

“For our team, Nurkić was a better fit for us,” Suns’ owner Mat Ishbia said at the team’s media day. “We’re trying to win a championship now. What Nurkić can do on the court and what he’ll do off the court and fit into our organization, he’s a better fit for us.”

The Suns ultimately ended up winning last night’s game 122-111 behind a stat-stuffing performance by Nurkić, improving to 2-1 in the preseason.

Jusuf Nurkić vs. Deandre Ayton – First Quarter

The game did not necessarily start out looking like Nurkić would get the better of Ayton.

After winning the tip, Ayton, not know for his passing, had a nice assist on the opening Blazer possession.

However, on Phoenix’s first basket of the game, Nurkić found Devin Booker for a pull-up jumper.

Nurkić scored the first points between the two. The basket came on a layup past Ayton, as he also drew a foul on the Blazers’ big man. Nurkić then connected on the free throw.

The Suns’ next trip down the court, Nurkić had a turnover on an offensive foul. On the ensuing Blazer possession, Ayton got an easy dunk because Nurkić did not do a good job defending the pick-and-roll.

How did Nurkić respond? With a three-point play on the other end, his second of the game, less than five minutes into the first quarter.

The two didn’t do anymore damage really against each other in the first quarter, as Ayton subbed out with six minutes to go. However, Nurkić did end up connecting on his first triple of the preseason with four minutes to go in the quarter.

Their first quarter stats:

Nurkić: 9 points | 1 rebound | 1 assist | 1 turnover | 1 steal | 2 fouls | +3 | Shot 3-of-4 (75%) from the floor in just under nine minutes

Ayton: 3 points | 2 rebounds | 1 assist | 0 turnovers | +1 | 2 fouls | Shot 1-of-3 (33%) from the floor in just under six minutes

Blazers led 40-37 heading into the second.

Jusuf Nurkić vs. Deandre Ayton – Second Quarter

The second quarter is where the tide really turned in favor of Nurkić.

Right away, Nurkić got an offensive rebound on the very first possession. This set up what was going to be a dominating performance on the glass in the quarter.

On the next big play between the two, Ayton found Anfernee Simons for a triple. This was Ayton’s second assist of the game (at this point Ayton had more assists than Nurkić).

“Oh you are wondering why Deandre Ayton is suddenly playmaking so well?” Nurkić must have thought. “Let me show you what I am capable of.”

Thirty seconds after Ayton’s assist, Nurkić threw an overhead pass down the court for an easy dunk by Kevin Durant.

With around eight minutes to go in the half, Nurkić had two more assists on back-to-back possessions to Durant, the first one giving the Suns their first lead of the game (47-45).

Ayton did have a block right before he was subbed out for a couple minutes with six minutes remaining in the half.

During the time Ayton was out, Nurkić recorded another and-one, this time on a putback. He also had another assist to Durant.

When Ayton checked back in with four minutes to go in the half, Nurkić had three straight defensive rebounds. His third rebound came off a shot that he blocked (on Shaedon Sharpe).

The next stats between the two came with two minutes to go when Nurkić made a layup.

With 1:20 to go, Ayton recorded an offensive foul (drawn by Nassir Little). This turned into a Nurkić dunk on the other end.

The Suns, as a team, swarmed the Blazers on defense and torched them on offense all quarter. Nurkić really was the anchor behind it all because of his all-around play.

Second Quarter Stats

Nurkić: 8 points | 7 rebounds | 4 assists | 0 turnovers | 1 steal | 1 block | 0 fouls | +24 | Shot 3-of-4 (75%) from the floor in 12 minutes

Ayton: 2 points | 3 rebounds | 1 assist | 2 turnovers | 1 block | 1 foul | -19 | Shot 1-of-1 (100%) from the floor in just under 10 minutes

Game Stats to this Point

Nurkić: 17 points | 8 rebounds | 5 assists | 1 turnover | 2 steals | 1 block | 2 fouls | +27 | Shot 6-of-8 (75%) from the floor in just under 21 minutes

Ayton: 5 points | 5 rebounds | 2 assists | 2 turnovers | 1 block | 3 fouls | -18 | Shot 2-of-4 (50%) from the floor in just under 16 minutes

Suns led 76-55 at halftime and outscored Portland 39-15 in the second quarter.

Ayton Plays a Little in Third Quarter, Nurkić in Street Clothes

As Suns fans have been accustomed to, Phoenix rested Nurkić for the rest of the game.

However, Ayton came out for just under eight minutes in the third quarter and recorded two points, a rebound and an assist. He was +7 during his time on the floor in the quarter.

The Final Tally

Nurkić: 17 points | 8 rebounds | 5 assists | 1 turnover | 2 steals | 1 block | 2 fouls | +27 | Shot 6-of-8 (75%) from the floor in just under 21 minutes

Ayton: 7 points | 6 rebounds | 3 assists | 2 turnovers | 1 block | 3 fouls | -11 | Shot 3-of-6 (50%) from the floor in just over 23 minutes

The Suns defeated the Blazers 122-111.

The Highlights

Did We See this Coming with Nurkić after Last Game?

Nurkić also impressed against Nikola Jokić and the Nuggets on Tuesday.

Nurkić held Jokić to nine points on 4-of-11 shooting. For himself, Nurkić recorded 10 points (eight came from the free-throw line), four rebounds and two assists in this game.

See coach Suns’ Frank Vogel talk about Nurkić’s impressive performance against the two-time MVP below.

Takeaways: Jusuf Nurkić vs. Deandre Ayton

For Jusuf Nurkić, when he plays like this, no one can beat the Suns. He was literally doing everything on the court. He successfully switched onto guards on the perimeter defensively and made plays on offense .. as a center! Not to mention, he had Ayton and Moses Brown’s number in the paint all game.

The areas that stood out most from Nurkić were that he was a wall defensively and his ability to set hard screens and roll offensively. His strength around the rim is an element that fans were not accustomed to seeing from Ayton. Also, notice how many of his assists were to Durant (an early connection there).

Whether or not Nurkić was playing this hard just because he knew he would only be getting minutes in the first half and was excited to return to Portland, remains to be seen. However, the potential of what he can bring to the Suns was definitely on display.

As for Ayton, it is hard to judge him at this early juncture with the Blazers. Portland has a lot of young players that are hunting for shots rather than looking to be playmakers. In Phoenix, Ayton had Chis Paul to find him. Malcolm Brogdon is the only name that comes to mind that could look for Ayton consistently. However, Brogdon’s name is currently swirling in trade rumors.

It will be interesting to see if Ayton can find his footing or will be a lost piece under this basket on this Blazers’ team.

As for now, it definitely looks like Nurkić is a better fit on this experienced Suns’ group. His ability to affect all facets of the game will be a huge bonus for the Suns.

Biggest Takeaways from the Phoenix Suns Preseason Win over the Portland Trailblazers

Stories on Nurkić

Jusuf Nurkić Arrives in the Valley

Mat Ishbia addresses decision to trade away Deandre Ayton

WATCH: Jusuf Nurkić Reflects on Trade after Day Two of Suns Training Camp

New Suns’ Center Jusuf Nurkić LOVES Playing with Phoenix’s Big 3

WATCH: Suns’ Jusuf Nurkić at Shootaround Ahead of Playing Nuggets

Gambo: Suns could trade Deandre Ayton for Jusuf Nurkić if he becomes available

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Brendan Mau is a senior writer covering the Phoenix Suns and more for Burn City Sports. You can follow him on X via @Brendan_Mau

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