Oct 29, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Nuggets center Jusuf Nurkic (23) and Portland Trail Blazers forward Noah Vonleh (21) battle for a rebound in the second quarter at the Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
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With the Denver Nuggets trading Jusuf Nurkic to the Portland Trail Blazers for Mason Plumlee, it’s time for a new batch of NBA Trade Grades.
With the NBA’s Feb. 23 trade deadline approaching, it was only a matter of time before a deal emerged that one-upped Milwaukee’s Miles Plumleeswap with Charlotte. On Sunday, that trade finally arrived.
Trailblazers get C – Jusuf Nurkic 2017 1st round pick
Thanks to Nikola Jokic‘s rapid rise to stardom, Nurkic’s fit in Denver came into question and his name soon appeared in NBA trade rumors. It’s not surprising to see him dealt away, especially once he started pouting over his steady decline in minutes and role under Michael Malone.
Meanwhile, the Blazers dealt away their starting center to give Nurkic a chance, which probably won’t fix their 27th-ranked defense but will allow them to continue to focus on the roster’s long-term potential.
The question is, how did each team make out in this deal? To put it all in perspective, here are some NBA Trade Grades.
Oct 29, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Nuggets center Jusuf Nurkic (23) dribbles the ball as Portland Trail Blazers forward Mason Plumlee (24) defends in the first quarter at the Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
Portland Trail Blazers
Leading up to the 2017 NBA Trade Deadline, many speculated the Blazers would try to swing a trade for rim protection or a defensive presence so they could repair one of the NBA’s bottom-five defenses.
After spending so much money to retain a young core following a surprising 44-win season, it made sense the Blazers would try to go all in on a push for a playoff spot this year. Instead, they shipped away their starting center and main rim protector for a 22-year-old, but somehow, the move is still in keeping with their goals for the future.
POR smart to play the long game. Never wanted to pay Plumlee, get Nurk + a pick that will likely end up around No. 20.
While Portland’s 23-31 record is obviously disappointing, Rip City is still only one game behind the Nuggets for that eighth playoff spot, and Plumlee’s 111.0 defensive rating was worse than every player on the roster except the rarely used Pat Connaughton.
With Plumlee hitting restricted free agency this summer and the Blazers not exactly jumping for joy at the prospect of paying up to retain him, trading him away now makes sense.
Nurkic is not the better player in this deal, but he eventually could be if he joins Portland with a motivated, more positive attitude. So far this season, his numbers haven’t improved as expected, hovering at 8.0 points and 5.8 rebounds in just 17.9 minutes per game.
Jokic’s emergence as a legitimate superstar obviously limited Nurkic’s ceiling in Denver, but the Bosnian Bear has also been hampered by injuries and a negative attitude. He’s a bruiser down low, but he’s not necessarily a rim protector either.
Luckily for the Blazers, even if Nurkic doesn’t pan out in a starting job — which he very well could after being shipped away from Denver — the deal adds the Nuggets’ 2017 first-rounder to the equation. That pick (via Memphis) will likely be around No. 21, giving the Blazers three first-rounders in the loaded 2017 NBA Draft.
Portland has three first-round picks in the loaded 2017 NBA Draft now.
Whatever the case, by avoiding Mason Plumlee’s restricted free agency, adding a promising youngster like Nurkic and pocketing an additional first round pick, the Trail Blazers struck quite a nice deal.
They will miss Plumlee’s passing on the interior, and we should point out that according to NBA.com, the Blazers were actually ranked first in defensive field goal percentage on shots inside of six feet. This move, however, is not about making the playoffs in 2017 as much as investing in Nurkic’s — and the rest of this roster’s — potential.
Oct 16, 2016; Portland, OR, USA; Portland Trail Blazers forward Mason Plumlee (24) shoots over Denver Nuggets center Jusuf Nurkic (23) during the second quarter at the Moda Center. Mandatory Credit: Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Sports
On paper, it seems like the Denver Nuggets lost this trade. They just got rid of a disgruntled 22-year-old who may thrive in a new environment, they had to give up a first round pick to do so and anytime you trade for a Plumlee, chances are it’s going to look like an L to the outside world.
Taking a deeper dive into the Nuggets’ current situation, however, reveals this trade is something of a victory for them too.
Yes, Nurkic will probably make Denver regret this move down the road when he puts up solid numbers on a new team. But his frequent pouting was a detriment to the locker room of a team competing for a playoff spot, and he was hardly playing anyway.
The Bosnian Bear just didn’t fit alongside Jokic, and with the Joker’s rise to stardom looking like a sure (and present) thing, he became expendable.
Giving up a first-rounder is quite a ransom for Plumlee, but it’s less of a problem when Denver still has its own pick in the draft — the move valuable of the two — and doesn’t really need any more rookies. This roster that already includes so many young players; now it’s time to start developing them into a legitimate playoff squad.
With the Nuggets ranking dead last in defensive rating, perhaps Plumlee will get a chance to make a difference, either off the bench behind Jokic or alongside him. And therein lies the difference between this trade being a solid move or a home run: whether the two can play together in the frontcourt.
One big test for this deal will be whether or not Plumlee can play with Jokic for 5-15 mpg. If yes, it's a slam dunk, IMO.
Plumlee’s averages of 11.0 points, 8.0 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 1.2 blocks per game show how well-rounded his game is. Though the Blazers are a terrible defense and Plumlee had the worst defensive rating among all rotation players, he was also part of the reason Portland’s rim protection on shots inside of six feet was so stingy.
If he and Jokic can co-exist in limited minutes together, the Nuggets may have a dilemma on their hands when it comes to retaining Plumlee this summer.
Highly doubt POR is done dealing. Not sure how Plumlee fits in DEN long-term if he gets even borderline starting C money.
But his status as a restricted free agent could also aid Denver in keeping him around long-term, and at the very least, he’ll help with this year’s playoff push. His passing should be a boon to the NBA’s eighth-ranked offense, especially alongside one of the game’s best passing bigs in Jokic.
DEN will surely test whether Plumlee/Jokic can play together. Plumlee would be incredible backup. DEN counting on RFA process to cool market
According to ESPN’s Marc Stein, the next move for the Nuggets might be moving Danilo Gallinari, who can opt out of the final year of his contract this summer and probably won’t be a high priority for Denver’s front office to re-sign.
The Nuggets gave up the more attractive assets in this swap, but the 26-year-old Plumlee is an underrated center who, even if he and Jokic don’t mesh together, will serve as a terrific backup. The question is whether a first round pick — even an extra one — and a promising young player like Nurkic were a proper allocation of resources for that kind of acquisition.