Jusuf Nurkic eager to help Portland Trail Blazers win: 'They need me, I need them'

He talked about his playing style, his fit with the Trail Blazers, his up-and-down NBA career and his early impressions of Portland. Then, just before Jusuf Nurkic wrapped up his first question-and-answer session with Portland area reporters Monday...

Jusuf Nurkic eager to help Portland Trail Blazers win: 'They need me, I need them'

He talked about his playing style, his fit with the Trail Blazers, his up-and-down NBA career and his early impressions of Portland.

Then, just before Jusuf Nurkic wrapped up his first question-and-answer session with Portland area reporters Monday night, someone asked why he's called the "Bosnian Beast."

"They give it to me for some reason," Nurkic said of his nickname. "I don't know. I'm going to show them why."

The Blazers' newest center arrived into town Monday pledging to play defense and fill whatever role coach Terry Stotts desires, while sounding eager for a new start on a new team. After falling out of favor in Denver following a promising start to his NBA career, the 7-foot, 280-pound Nurkic seemed liberated -- and borderline giddy -- about joining the Blazers.

"I think this is a perfect place for me," Nurkic said. "They need me, I need them."

Nurkic, who was acquired from the Denver Nuggets in exchange for starting center Mason Plumlee, landed in Portland around noon Monday and spent the bulk of the day undergoing medical testing by team doctors. He made it to the Blazers' bench just before they tipped off against the Atlanta Hawks and received a warm reception from the Moda Center crowd when he was shown on the jumbotron in the first quarter.

The 22 year-old center is expected to participate in his first practice on Tuesday and suit up for his first game a day later, when the Blazers visit the Utah Jazz.

Stotts spent a chuck of time Monday watching game film of Nurkic and jotting down notes on ways he can utilize his newest player. Stotts said it's likely that Nurkic will initially come off the bench as he learns the Blazers' playbook and grows comfortable with his new teammates, but he will be given a chance to earn a starting job "down the road."

"I like keeping my options," Stotts said. "So I'm not going to commit one way or the other. Certainly there is an opportunity for him."

Nurkic, who complained in December about losing his starting job to Nuggets center Nikola Jokic, said he's willing to do "whatever Coach needs."

"At the end of the day, I only care about winning," he said.

Nurkic brings a different element to the Blazers, both offensively and defensively, then his predecessor. On offense, Nurkic can score with both hands in the post, is a threat to hit a midrange jumper and can create space through screens with his imposing frame. On defense, that frame takes up a lot of space and, Stotts said, Nurkic has quick feet and good hands.

But even though Stotts spent time Monday scouting video of his new center, he said he's eager to see what more Nurkic can do. Plumlee expanded his game in virtually every way under Stotts and, before him, Robin Lopez blossomed in Portland, too. Perhaps Nurkic can do the same.

"He is a skilled player and he's only 22 with a lot of room to improve," Stotts said. "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's good at. I do think he has a good sense of the game at both ends. I think that always helps."

At the very least, the "Bosnian Beast" arrived into Portland eager to make the most of a new opportunity.

"It takes time," he said. "But I'm ready to work and, like I said, I want to win and I want to help this team win." 

Joe Freeman | jfreeman@oregonian.com | 503-294-5183 | @BlazerFreeman

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