He isn’t even playing in games yet, but Jusuf Nurkic is making his mark on his teammates. He’s practicing.
And even practice is better when Nurk is around.
“It’s like old times, it was fun,” CJ McCollum said after Saturday's workout. “Still got good chemistry. Good to see him getting up and down the court, getting hit, getting fouled, blocking shots, making the right reads, he sets some good screens.
“It’s good to see him out there, because I feel like I can feel the excitement from him being able to get back out there playing after so long.
“I know the process is tedious. I haven’t been through what he's been through but It’s a lonely road. No one knows what it’s like to go through rehabbing by yourself, being by yourself and not traveling. For him to be around, it’s great.”
Obviously, Nurkic will not be playing in games anytime soon. Caution is the byword with his rehab.
“He looks great,” McCollum said. “But it’s moreso 'feel' than anything. I always tell him, take your time. No one knows when you’re ready, but you. It’s your body. No one has to rehab when you get hurt. No one has to live with what you have to live with, So make sure you’re ready mentally and when you are, you will know.
“I think he looks great, but it’s moreso about him feeling like he’s ready.”
More than the personality, the Trail Blazers play a different game when he’s on the court.
“Well, he looked good,” Damian Lillard said. “He’s looked really good, so it’s definitely encouraging.
“I’m really excited. The playmaking ability, the amount of things we can do with his skillset, to be less predictable and harder to deal with, is definitely exciting to know he’s getting closer.”
“There’s a difference with him because he’s a unique player,” Coach Terry Stotts said. “His passing is the first thing that stands out. We did a lot of three-on-three, emphasizing some passing and dribble hand-offs and things like that, but his style of play, we miss that, because he is a unique player.”
Is he as fun to play with as he is to watch?
“Absolutely,” McCollum said. “He really and truly enjoys the game. He plays with energy. He’s Infectious with his demeanor and with the way he carries himself. He doesn’t have a false bravado about him, but he celebrates. When he blocks a shot he lets you know -- similar to Whiteside. Whiteside plays with that, too.
“It's something that the fans miss. Something they thrive off of and I’m sure they will be excited when that time comes."
But his teammates enjoy him even when he’s not playing.
“His swag is unbelievable,” McCollum said. “Hollywood. I’ve been calling him Hollywood for a long time. He’s got that European swag. The flow is there. The comb-over he had with the Pat Riley look a while ago with the slicked-back hair.
“You have to be confident in yourself in this league. If you don’t believe in yourself, this league will swallow you whole.”
“There’s no question his personality is a part of the team,” Stotts said. “But you can tell his personality on the bench, with his attire. Everybody enjoys him, whether he is playing or not. Everybody enjoys his personality.”
Nurk Fever is back. But it’s still in quarantine.