KEY POINTS

  • Jusuf Nurkic joined team practice for the first time since leg injury
  • He almost doubled his production in all areas after his transfer from Denver Nuggets
  • Damian Lillard challenged Nurkic to put in extra work if he wants to prove something

As a frustrated big man playing behind Nikola Jokic, Portland’s center Jusuf Nurkic, has found a home with the Trail Blazers where he was able to establish himself as one of the dominant European big men in the league.

As soon as he moved to Oregon from Colorado, the moment he met the team’s star guard Damian Lillard turned out to be the turning point of his career per an article posted on ClutchPoints.

“When I came, I was in a really bad place, in basketball and probably my life,” described the 25-year old center to The Athletic’s Jason Quick. “Everything was just going the wrong way. I was fighting for my status in the NBA because I know I deserved a chance and Dame showed up and was like, ‘Do you want this? Then do it this way.’”

After only averaging not more than 18 minutes per game, his request was granted when the Denver Nuggets, along with a first-round draft pick, sent him to Portland in 2017 for Mason Plumlee, a draft pick and cash. Dame lit up a fire inside the “Bosnian Beast” and his numbers were almost doubled in all departments after the transfer.

He averaged 15.2 points, 10.4 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 3.1 blocks, and 1.3 steals in almost 30 minutes per contest in his first season with the Blazers.

“It was the best part of my life, basketball-wise, what happened to me. He is by far the best thing to happen to me in basketball,” Nurk said about the friendship that was built between him and Dame.

“Once he realized I wasn’t just saying I was on his side, on his team, that I really wanted to help him, our friendship took off. Our energy started becoming more of a friendship than us being teammates,” said Lillard.

Then, the friendship extended to outside the court when Nurk started dropping by Dame’s crib and started talking smack on-court to pump each other up.

Now that the seven-foot center had his first practice with the team 10 months after the gruesome injury he suffered, coach Terry Stotts is happy to see the progression of his center, who participated on both 4-on-4 and 5-on-5 half-court practices.

“We did 4-on-4 and 5-on-5 half court stuff today. He’s been doing that with coaches and some of the younger guys, but this is the first time that it was 5-on-5,” said Stotts, who maybe just months, or maybe weeks, closer to filling the hole at the center spot with only Hassan Whiteside as the only full-time big man for the team.

Jusuf Nurkic Jusuf Nurkic suffers a horrific injury during Trailblazers win over the Nets. In this picture, Nurkic #27 of the Portland Trail Blazers looks on during the first half against the Washington Wizards at Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C., Nov. 18, 2018. Photo: Will Newton/Getty Images