Stotts makes plans for new Blazers center Nurkic
The newest Trail Blazer met with the media about 10 minutes before game time Monday night at Moda Center.
Jusuf Nurkic is big —all of 7-foot and 280 — and eager to wear a Portland uniform.
"I'm pretty excited to be here," Nurkic said before the Blazers' game against Atlanta. "I can't wait to play."
Nurkic, acquired by Portland in the Sunday trade that sent Mason Plumlee to Denver, arrived in the City of Roses about noon Monday. He underwent medical tests during the afternoon and was not available for duty for the game against the Hawks. Coach Terry Stotts said he expects Nurkic, who is in his third NBA season, to be ready to go Wednesday night when the Blazers visit Salt Lake City to face the Utah Jazz.
The native of Bosnia — his Twitter handle is "bosnianbeast27" — was averaging 8.0 points and 5.8 rebounds in 45 games for the Nuggets.
Nurkic, 22, began the season as a starter and started 29 games alongside Nikola Jokic, but the two post men weren't effective together, and Nurkic assumed a bench role. He was a "DNP/CD" (did not play/coach's decision) in three of the last six games.
In Portland's 112-105 win over Denver on Nov. 13, Nurkic started at center and scored eight points on 3-for-9 shooting with nine rebounds in 19 minutes.
In Denver's 132-120 win over the Blazers on Dec. 15, Nurkic had two points and four rebounds in four minutes off the bench.
Stotts called Nurkic "a good young player, with a lot of room to improve. He had some good moments in Denver. He has good hands. He's a very good rebounder. He's a skilled player. I'm looking forward to getting him acclimated with our system and how we play."
Nurkic doesn't run the court as does Plumlee or shoot the 3-point shot like Meyers Leonard.
"When you compare him to Mason, Meyers and Ed (Davis), he's a different type of player," Stotts said. "He's a big body. He's imposing inside. He's a good finisher. He has a different skill set than those other three guys, and I look forward to utilizing that."
Stotts said he won't have to change his offensive sets.
"We run a lot of the same things we did when LaMarcus (Aldridge) was here," the Blazers mentor said. "We just put different emphasis on sets. Jusuf is a good passer. We'll put him in situations where he'll be able to facilitate, and we'll see what he can do down on the block and how he fits in defensively.
"He's an imposing figure in the lane. He has very quick feet and good hands. One of the things we've tried to do since I've been here is see what players are able to do rather than limit what they can do. We'll put him in different situations and find out what he is good at. I do think he has a good sense for the game at both ends, and that always helps."
Nurkic was asked how felt about the trade. "Great, to be honest with you," he said. "I want to win. I'm here to help us win. I'm all about winning."
Does he expect to play a bigger role than he did at the end in Denver?
"Definitely," he said. "I can help. it's the best place for me. They need me; I need them. I bring a lot to the table. A lot of energy. Defense and offense, scoring in the post, assists — I bring a lot. It takes time, but I'm ready to work. I want to help this team win."
Nurkic will begin his tenure with the Blazers as a reserve. Does Stotts see him as the eventual starter at center this season?
"Down the road, we'll see," he said. "I'm not going to commit one way or the other, but there certainly is an opportunity for him. We want to make him comfortable with we do. The next step will be us getting comfortable with what he can do."
The Blazers began the day with a 23-31 record, a game behind Denver (24-30), which was holding the eighth and final playoff spot in the NBA Western Conference.
"It's interesting that we made a trade with Denver, and we're in a (playoff) race with Denver," Stotts noted.
It would seem the Blazers did not improve their postseason chances by giving up a starting center to their toughest competition for a playoff spot in exchange for a player that wasn't in the regular rotation for that team.
"We're going to do everything we can to compete and make the playoffs," Stotts said. "Jusuf is a good player. He has started (59) games in this league. He can be an effective player. "Everybody in the locker room knows we're still competing for the playoff spot. Even without the trade, it was going to be a challenge to make the playoffs. There are a lot of teams fighting for that one spot."