Early February 12th it was broken that Jusuf Nurkic had been traded to Portland for Mason Plumlee. Also included in the deal was a 2018 second round pick coming Denver's way, and the rights to Memphis' 2017 1st round heading to Portland. Though the trade didn’t make quite the splash fans had been hoping for, Denver desperately needed to get rid of Nurkic, and they seem to have gotten a good haul in return.
Nurkic, in addition to having his name be too similar to Jokic, was developing an attitude and didn’t seem to be working well with the other players or staff. Moving a potential locker room negative could prove to be as valuable as the players received, who themselves seem to be good pickups. Fans seem to be worried about Denver giving up one of their first round picks right before one of the more stacked drafts in the past few years, though Plumlee should prove to be well worth it.
Fans are upset that Tim Connelly has given up a first round pick, but this shouldn’t be an issue given Connelly’s recent success with the draft. In the 2014 draft Connelly successfully traded Doug McDermott for Jusuf Nurkic and Gary Harris, then took Nikola Jokic 41st overall in the draft. Connelly is not doubt preparing another 2nd round steal for Denver.
Mason Plumlee enters Denver averaging 11.1 points, 8 rebounds, and 4 assists in his 2016-17 season. What’s really nice to see here is that he is 4th among centers in assists per game. It is even better to remember that Nikola Jokic is 2nd on that lists with a slightly better 4.4 per game. Thanks to this trade, The Nuggets now have two of the best play making centers in the entire NBA. Plumlee’s 8 rebounds per game is also a welcome addition to Denver's game on the glass. The Nugs have taken the spot at #1 in the league in rebounding, grabbing 46.7 boards per game. 11.1 points per game is a slight improvement from Nurkic’s 8, and Denver currently sits at 4th in the NBA for scoring, putting up 110.9 per game, so Plumlee should help in keeping Denver’s offense on point. No matter how you look at it statistically, Plumlee is an amazing addition to the roster.
One fact should keep Nuggets Nation a slightly nervous, Plumlee and Jokic will eventually take the court together at the same time. At first, this sounds great, why not have two of the top 5 best passing centers on the floor simultaneously? Because Jusuf Nurkic that’s why. Back on November 16th 2016, I released another article on Hashtagbasketball called “The Jurkic duo is Hurting Nikola Jokic”, making points that having another big man on the court playing center was taking away from Jokic’s full effect on the team when Malone put him in the stretch 4 position. The bit of hope that fans can have is that Plumlee is not Nurkic. Nurkic played selfishly and sluggishly on the court near the end of his stay in Denver after he seemed to be insulted that Jokic was taking the starting center role. With hope and lots of practice, Jokic and Plumlee can confidently play a duel center role and drop dimes all over the court.
“Obviously when Nikola is off the floor, you try to play the same. But we don’t have another Nikola Jokic. I think what Mason Plumlee brings is that he’s another big that you can play through...” Coach Malone said when discussing the trade. It seems the Nuggets wish to continue their pass happy, center-based offense when Jokic inevitably becomes exhausted. If the Nuggets are starting Jokic and bringing Plumlee off of the bench, they can essentially keep the same offense running the entire 48 minutes of any given game. With the same offense, any momentum gained will be retained and any players subbed into the rotation will know exactly what kind of offensive system is going on.
The results of this trade have yet to bear fruit given Plumlee won’t make his Nuggets debut until February 15th against the Timberwolves, but over the next few weeks we will have the chance to watch the Plumlee experiment go into full effect.