He helps organize Portland’s offense, pointing teammates in opportunistic directions and signaling the guards when a potential cut presents itself. While Lillard garnered a boisterous applause for a gorgeous dime to a cutting Maurice Harkless on this March 2 play, it was Nurkic’s screen that created an open lane.

When the Thunder attempted to trap McCollum after denying a pick, he found Nurkic, who could have easily had his way with the undersized Alex Abrines. Instead, Nurkic made an immediate touch pass to Noah Vonleh.

In just eight games in Portland, Nurkic is averaging three and a half times more assists per game than at any point during his three seasons in Denver. That’s a small sample, but could be a sign of what’s to come.

Hopson inherited a team that actually had expectations again. The nine-win 2015 had enlivened the fan base, and heading into 2016 I saw a schedule that featured only one sure loss.

USM is projected 72nd in S&P+ and plays only one team projected higher. The trip to LSU is a likely loss, games against Kentucky, Marshall and perhaps Louisiana Tech are tossups (with a coin slightly weighted in USM’s favor), and the other eight are likely wins. But those are based on Monken’s work. A coaching change always threatens progress.

A brief step backward is on the table if the offense isn’t quite as good on third-and-long and the defense isn’t as good at forcing third-and-long.
The Golden Eagles went 3-0 in those three “tossup” games (though Marshall’s collapse made that anything but a tossup) and lost to LSU. If you had told me that 12 months ago, I’d have assumed they finished about 10-2. Instead, they fell to 7-6 with losses to Troy, UTSA, Charlotte, ODU, and North Texas.
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