Outside of unsuccessful attempts at wooing all-star caliber players, there was no bigger Trail Blazers offseason story than center Jusuf Nurkić’s weight loss. Between arriving in Portland out of shape and having his season ended by a non-displaced fibular fracture in his right leg, there was ample reason for the 7-0 center in his fourth season out of Bosnia and Herzegovina to commit to shedding weight before the start of training camp. He did just that, losing roughly 35 pounds in five months.
Even before he lost the weight, Nurkić was nimble and quick enough to use his girth to move defenders out of the way, especially in an NBA where traditional centers of Nurkić’s size are becoming more and more of a rarity. But would a slimmed down Nurkić still be able to overwhelm his defenders? Early results indicate that might still the case, as Nurkić was able to easily dispatch anyone the Suns sent at him on the way to finishing with 16 points on 8-of-13 shooting in Tuesday’s preseason loss.
But Nurkić didn’t need to overpower his defenders Tuesday night, as the slimmed-down version of the “Bosnian Beast” looked quicker in and around the post than at any time last season. That was evident in the third quarter of Tuesday’s loss, with Nurkić using a spin move on Suns’ Marquese Chriss, a 6-10, 240 pound big man win his second season out of Washington, that left the former Husky defending a specter.
“It just my move,” said Nurkić of the play. “I feel like I was too long without basketball in a game and when you go out there I just want to have fun. When I see that kind of mismatch — they tried to guard me like different lineups and that’s not gonna work.”
Whatever Nurkić might have lost by losing weight, he’s made up it with stamina and quickness. Other teams, such as the Toronto Raptors, Portland’s opponent Thursday night, will offer more of a challenge than Phoenix’s young bigs, though it also gives the 24 year-old another chance to figure out what the new-look Nurkić can and can’t do.
“I’m too quick,” joked Nurkić. “Everything looked good with me, just need to figure out the way how I play right now. I need to figure out where at.”