“I’m [as] healthy as possible.” -- That is how Trail Blazers big man Jusuf Nurkic started off his Friday morning Zoom interview.
And that’s what all of Rip City loves to hear.
The talk of the town lately has been all about getting a healthy Nurk and Zach Collins back as the Trail Blazers get set to head to Orlando to resume the 2019-20 season.
The starting lineup will of course look different.
Blazers Coach Terry Stotts has some decisions to make, but has already said he anticipates a couple of big lineups.
So, does Nurk view Hassan Whiteside as a threat for starting minutes?
Nah, he knows he and Whiteside can and should work together.
“You can look at [it] whatever you want. It ain’t no competition, it’s my teammate. All my teammates… should be here to win the game. And, you know, coach obviously has one job to figure out all the minutes and the roles,” Nurkic said Friday.
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The Blazers starting lineup will probably vary depending on matchups, but one possibility is Nurk and Whiteside playing alongside each other.
The Bosnian Beast mentioned how he could see some action at the power forward position.
To have Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum along with Carmelo Anthony and Nurkic and then Whiteside anchoring the middle would be a lineup that a lot of team’s would need to adjust their own lineup to in order to defend such a big team.
Nurkic says he is ready to fill whatever role Coach Stotts decides for him.
“I think we just need to fill in role with what the coach supposed to give us and what he think is the best for us and for the team,” Nurk added. “That's his part of the job, but I went down as a center, so I'll be back at the center. If I'm going to play some minutes at the four – yeah, I think [after] talking to the coach, I will definitely play some four.”
The 7-footer understands that in the few days left before the Blazers travel to Orlando to enter the quarantine bubble, he has one job:
Get in the best shape possible before Portland tips off its first game against Memphis on July 31, while Stotts figures out the rest.
“It’s just a matter of what [Coach Stotts] thinks is the best for the team -- that’s his part of the job to figure out. My part is -- I'm going to be as healthy as I’ve probably ever been.”
Whiteside has already pushed for the twin towers idea before the season was suspended.
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
Nurkic acknowledged that with the global pandemic, and thus the NBA hiatus, it has been extremely helpful for him to continue to work on getting his body right.
“We'll see… what's my wind look like, but I definitely think, going to [training] camp and to the games with no restrictions, especially minutes, it's just a huge part in this and [the coronavirus pandemic] gave it to me,” Nurkic said.
Nurkic also says he “knows” he’s going to come back “a better player.”
In 72 games during the Trail Blazers 2018-19 season, the Blazers starting center averaged a career high 15.6 points, to go along with 10.4 rebounds, 3.2 assists, and 1.4 blocks per game.
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And now that we’ve seen the social media videos of the Bosnian Beast getting up plenty of threes, the question remains: Will Nurkic be more of a threat from deep now?
Over his six-year career, he has attempted a total of 42 three-pointers.
Of those 42, he has made three, which all came in the 2018-19 season with Portland.
He went 3-of-29 that season.
So while coach Stotts will most likely need to see a little more consistency out of Nurk to give him the green light from deep, Nurkic says his shooting touch has always been there, but he plans to take more threes when he finally makes his return.
I feel great. I mean, like I said, during this process and then just being on a bench in a suit and you see a lot of different perspectives…. I feel… I have [had] a great touch from day one I arrived to the league. So, I think the shooting part, I guess is just about coach and what the team needs, and I definitely feel I'm going to shoot more this year now. And I'm capable of shooting those, I just, you know, need to consistently, and I've been working for a while now and it’s just not something I really consider a new thing. It just now more allowed me to work on it. -- Trail Blazers center Jusuf Nurkic
We’ll have to wait and see if the big fella will be letting ‘em rip from long distance, but for Coach Stotts, he is most looking forward to Nurk being back as a facilitator on that end of the floor; however he is open to the idea of Nurk putting up more threes.
Nurk’s been getting his threes up. I’ve said for a long time I think he has a really good-looking stroke. I think he’s going to continue to improve. He’s still a young guy and I think his three-point shooting will evolve. His strength is still going to be in the paint… But, I’ve never discouraged him from shooting threes. -- Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts
“We’ve definitely missed Nurk’s passing for sure,” Stotts added. “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.”
But, we all know that having Nurkic back in general is an important part of the Blazers push for the playoffs.