The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski is reporting that the Denver Nuggets are sending Jusuf Nurkic and a first round draft pick that they acquired from the Memphis Grizzlies to the Portland Trail Blazers for Mason Plumlee and a 2018 2nd round draft pick.
Sources on @TheVertical: Portland sends Denver center Mason Plumlee and '18 2nd-round pick for Jusuf Nurkic and '17 first-rounder (via Griz)— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojVerticalNBA) February 12, 2017
What Denver gave up
Nurkic was checked out and an absolute sunk cost for the Denver Nuggets. Fans loved him in his first season when he showed lots of promise on the defensive end and had an edge that frustrated opposing players around the league. His second season with the Nuggets was a frustrating one in which he was slow to recover from a knee injury, took long to get into game shape once he returned, and then failed to get consistent minutes as the team began to move on behind standout rookie Nikola Jokic.
This season Nurkic started off very strong, coming into the season in great shape and looking to have a bounce back year. However, the emergence of Jokic as not just a better center but a legitimate NBA star forced Nurkic to the bench where he seemed to completely quit trying and lost all motivation. Nurkic spent the last two months in Denver moping around the court, leaving the arena during halftime of a game last week in Pepsi Center, and just completely checking out on his team.
It’s tough to see a promising young player check out the way that Nurkic did this year but it’s also important to understand that Nurkic had virtually no value to Denver and is an enormous risk for any team acquiring him.
1st round pick (via Memphis):
The Nuggets had two first round draft picks in this year’s loaded NBA draft. Their own pick, which will likely fall between 12-16, and Memphis’s pick, which will likely fall between 19-23. The Nuggets had 7 players on their roster that are 22 or young before this trade and two more coming in next year’s draft. They were already too young and would get even younger if they held on to both picks. In that regard, the Nuggets were always looking to deal one of their picks and the Memphis one was the worse of the two.
What Denver got back
Plumlee is, along with Nikola Jokic, one of the five best passing centers in the NBA. In a lot of ways he can be thought of as Jokic-light. He doesn’t have the all around offensive game that Jokic has but he is more than capable of playing the same style of dribble hand-off, continuity offense that the Nuggets run with Jokic. Both he and Jokic are among the top 5 centers in the NBA in assist percentage.
Plumlee is also an incredible athlete and can add some athleticism at the center position. He will play every second that Jokic is not on the court and will be a nice anchor for the second unit. It is also possible that Plumlee can play some minutes along side Jokic as a power forward since he has the mobility to defend that position against most power forwards and is a very high IQ player on offense.
He is entering restricted free agency and the Nuggets will have to make a decision about whether to re-sign him or not. My guess is that the Nuggets already know what their plan is with Plumlee and I would bet on it being to try to work out a deal assuming he plays well. Since he is so similar to Jokic in a lot of ways (although not as good), he should fit a long term plan for this team since he will provide continuity between the starting unit and the bench.
2018 2nd round pick from Portland
2nd round picks aren’t typically very valuable but hey, the Nuggets seem to have a knack for finding talent late in the draft. This pick isn’t likely to yield an impact player but I also wouldn’t rule it out. It will be nice for the Nuggets to have, either as a way to find another draft and stash type of long shot or to use as trade bait in a later deal. Either way, it is a nice kicker in a deal that, in my opinion, is pretty favorable for Denver.
This deal is a good one for Denver. It’s tough to depart with a 1st round draft pick, especially in a draft where there are good prospects expected to go late in the draft, but the value of that pick was higher for other teams than it was for Denver. Denver couldn’t afford to get younger when they already have players like Malik Beasley who are buried on an already deep rotation.
The loss of Nurkic isn’t even a loss to me. It’s addition by subtraction. Fans loved the idea of Nurkic but the actual Nurkic was a huge negative and a complete headache to coach, manage, and play with. He might rejuvenate his career in Portland. A change of scenery was certainly needed for him. However, for Denver he was a sunk cost and they could’ve traded him for a sack of nickles and I would’ve called it a win. Getting a player of Plumlee’s caliber only makes the deal that much better.