Since March 6, when it was first reported that Trail Blazers big man Jusuf Nurkic was set to make his return following nearly a year-long rehab, Blazers fans have been anticipating the moment of seeing Nurk step on the court once again.
And instead of Nurkic lacing up his shoes to take on the Houston Rockets in front of the home crowd at Moda Center on Mar. 15, the coronavirus pandemic hit and the NBA was suspended.
But now, with the NBA returning to action in Orlando, Florida at the end of the month, Nurkic along with Zach Collins will be returning to the court.
There's plenty of excitement and anticipation from the Trail Blazers as the two 7-footers get set to return.
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Damian Lillard wouldn’t share too many details on Portland’s newly-added secret weapons, but judging by the smile on his face during Wednesday’s Zoom call, it’s apparent he couldn’t be happier to get his two teammates back.
They look great. They make me feel way more confident going in just from seeing them -- both of them. Like I forgot, I didn’t forget, but I forgot who they were. Like it's been so long that I almost forgot… You’ve just got to see, man. I can’t share these things. -- Damian Lillard on Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins
Blazers coach Terry Stotts added “they both look great… Zach is 100 percent cleared. He looks great. He’s been working out… Zach will be able to play this season without any limitations.”
Coach Stotts doesn’t believe Nurkic or Collins will be on any type of minutes restriction when the team begins play in Orlando.
It was on March 25, 2019 when Nurk suffered a compound fracture of his left tibia and fibula late in a home game against the Brooklyn Nets.
Prior to the injury, the Trail Blazers big man averaged 15.6 points and 10.4 rebounds, both of which were career-highs.
As for Collins, he had successful surgery to repair his left labrum on Nov. 5.
He was then to be re-evaluated in approximately four months.
And now with the NBA’s long layoff, the Blazers feel confident that bringing back their two big men will be even more advantageous since they won’t be the only players needing to shake off some rust.
Lillard said, “I think it really helps that everybody is coming back rusty, for one. Nobody’s been playing. You know, our team is really familiar with each other, and I think that just the fact that our starting four and five are coming back from injuries... They’re coming back into a situation where everybody’s in the same boat, so it’s more comfortable. I think it’ll be a little bit more seamless for them. And I think that’s good for our team. So, once we do start playing I think we’ll be able to get it going pretty quick."
Stotts says he is still playing out different starting lineups in his head, saying, “I haven’t ruled out starting Hassan [Whiteside] and Nurk together.”
Think about that starting lineup for a moment:
- Damian Lillard
- CJ McCollum
- Carmelo Anthony
- Hassan Whiteside
- Jusuf Nurkic
That’d be a big lineup.
Whiteside has already pushed for the twin towers idea.
Melo posts up 80% of the time, so it’s not going to be a spacing issue or anything. I think we’ll be a force out there. Even when we’re in a game, I think we can play minutes together and then we can rotate in and out. -- Trail Blazers big man Hassan Whiteside on playing alongside Jusuf Nurkic
There’s no doubt that these two bigs have different games.
Both will alter shots at the rim, but of course, Whiteside is the better shot-blocker.
Nurkic is more of a facilitator than Whiteside on the other end allowing Lillard to play more off the ball in the pick-and-roll.
Whiteside does have four more years in the league on Nurkic. Hassan had no problem comparing his game to Nurk's back in March.
He’s more a pitching big. He passes the ball a little more. He’s more at the free throw line area with his pitches and passes and stuff. I’m more in the paint and under the rim. I’ve been shooting threes a little bit, but I’m more of a guy who likes to get straight to the Baja. -- Hassan Whiteside explaining the difference between his game and Jusuf Nurkic’s game
Nurkic’s “pitches and passes” will be key.
And Coach Stotts agrees.
“We’ve definitely missed Nurk’s passing for sure,” Stotts said Wednesday. “Dame and CJ really had to work hard for their points, and I think with [Nurk's] passing both out of the post and on our spacing sets that’s going to make things a little bit easier… Dame and Nurk’s pick and roll was one of the best in the league for the last couple of years. So, that’s going to be an important part of our offense.”
And at the other end of the floor, there’s no doubt these two bigs will quickly make an impact.
“One of the things we are going to be better at with the addition of Nurk and Zach is we are going to have more paint protection," Stotts added. "We are going to be a better rebounding team. And I don’t know how much it comes down to necessarily individual defense as much as it does to being a better defensive team."
Portland fans have been chomping at the bit to see a healthy Nurk and Collins.
And so have the Blazers.
“I think everybody is looking forward to what they both bring,” Stotts said. “They have both been out a long time, and both are anxious to get on the court, so they both will have a lot of energy. I think that is going to be contagious.”
As if thinking about getting Nurk back after seeing him sidelined for more than a year isn’t exciting enough, Coach Stotts offered up this salivating nugget on Nurkic:
“I think physically, it’s the best I’ve seen him look. He has good muscle tone, he doesn’t look thin, he looks strong. I don’t know what his body-fat [percentage] is, but honestly, from a physical standpoint, it’s the best I’ve seen him.”
Is the best Beast yet to come? That's intriguing.
Also, is it July 31 yet?