For the past few weeks, Trail Blazers center Jusuf Nurkić has been wearing a protective face mask as a precaution after having offseason oral surgery. After putting off the procedure to repair the teeth he had knocked out during a game versus the Toronto Raptors last season, the 7-0 Bosnian had three permanent implants put in this summer, hence the need for a the mask. While protecting his new porcelain is medically prudent, Nurkić also joked that “I want to be pretty” when asked about wearing the mask, which he also noted was difficult getting accustomed to.
Nurkić’s weight loss this offseason might have also made him prettier in the eyes of some, that decision to lose roughly 25 pounds was also born out of necessity, not vanity.
“He’s moving a lot better,” said Evan Turner of Nurkić. “Nurk is doing exactly what he’s supposed to do. Yesterday he played the way, you know, where people scream out ‘Nurk Fever’ and all of that nonsense. Nurk is looking good, I think, trimmed up the way he’s supposed to and he looks great 25 pounds lighter. I think anybody would.”
While he looked rather impressive during his first 20 games in Portland despite carrying the extra weight, a product of playing sparingly during his final days as a Denver Nugget, he did struggle at times with his conditioning even while averaging a double-double in just under 30 minutes per game.
“I think he’s always been light on his feet, I think he’s always moved well, but I think he’s probably better condition that anything else,” said Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts of the new Nurkić. “Honestly, that’s what I noticed mostly last year was that he would get winded, get fatigued a little earlier getting up and down the court. I just think it’s more about that than how he’s moving and how he’s playing, because I thought he was pretty good last year too.”
Nurkić’s weight loss might be the most noticeable change for fans, his teammates say his familiarity in terms of plays and personnel has been the most stark difference for the 23 year-old center.
“It’s amazing how (Nurkić) he is and how light on his feet (he is),” said Damian Lillard. “Really slippery and spinning and changing direction, getting up in the air and dunking, it’s really impressive how well he’s moving. Obviously he’s lost a lot of weight but I think the biggest thing that you notice him coming into camp as opposed to last year is just how comfortable he is. He’s catching the ball, he knows what to expect, he knows what he’s looking for. He just looks very comfortable out there.”
And as anyone who believes in body positivity will tell you, feeling comfortable in your own skin is more important than being slim and trim. So while there are clear benefits to entering training camp in better shape, Nurkić being content with his role and aware of what is expected of him will likely do more for Portland’s fortunes this season than weight loss alone would have.
“It’s different when you come ready, best shape is possible right now,” said Nurkić. “I’m fit, I’m definitely in. For me it’s all about the summer and I came ready. I have nothing to catch up. Right now it’s just like all those plays I didn’t know. Right now just getting together and try to listen everything that I can to help my book to remember. It’s a good thing to start, I’m really happy to start from Day One. It’s amazing to be around here.”