February 13, 2017, 11:07 am
The Denver Nuggets had a logjam in the frontcourt. Nikola Jokic is already well on the path to superstardom, but the Nuggets had a bit of a logjam up front with promising youngster Jusuf Nurkic and rumor mill veteran Kenneth Faried, not to mention rookie Juancho Hernangomez and still-useful Darrell Arthur.
Something had to give, especially as it became painfully obvious that Jokic and Nurkic struggled to play alongside one another.
The other shoe finally dropped this past weekend, with Denver pulling the trigger on a deal that sent Nurkic to the Portland Trail Blazers in exchange for Mason Plumlee. The teams also exchanged some draft picks, but the fun stuff is really in the swap of players.
Nuggets GM Tim Connelly met with the press this morning, with BSNDenver’s Harrison Wind in attendance.
Connelly on Plumlee: "He's here for the long term….he's a guy that will add to an already strong young core." pic.twitter.com/oD0pMO1BKK
— Harrison Wind (@HarrisonWind) February 13, 2017
That’s an unsurprising takeaway for Denver, but it’s absolutely the right call.
Put simply, the Nuggets need to build around Nikola Jokic. Every trade, signing and draft pick should be centered around leveraging Jokic’s many strengths; namely his elite passing.
On the surface, trading one big for another doesn’t exactly clear up the roster considering Faried is still around (for now), but Plumlee’s skillset is a perfect fit for the direction that Denver should be heading. The NBA’s leading big men for assists? DeMarcus Cousins (4.8), Nikola Jokic (4.2), Marc Gasol (4.2), Mason Plumlee (4.0).
Plumlee’s passing acumen will fit wonderfully in Denver’s second unit, as having a Diet Jokic With Lime as Big Honey’s direct backup simplifies decision making for the front office. By acquiring a similar player to run a similar system, Denver will be able to spend more efficiently on the open market. The same players that complement Jokic will work with Plumlee and vice versa. There won’t be a need to tie two or three players at the hip in any given lineup. The consistent presence of a big that can handle the ball and dish with aplomb will allow Denver to target complementary players more easily, either by acquiring players of a similar profile or bargain hunting for a player with one specific skill, if not some combination of both. A pure rim protector would come cheaper than someone who can patrol the paint and guard stretch fours, for example.
Versatility is key in today’s NBA, and both Jokic and Plumlee allow the Nuggets to operate with a roster full of uniquely skilled pieces. That’s without getting into Plumlee’s mobility advantage; coach Mike Malone has already stated that they can see Plumlee guarding more athletic power forwards. He’s unlocking new areas that Nurkic never could.
It’s really hard not to like this for Denver, considering Nurkic’s capped upside on a roster that just doesn’t suit him. He gets a fresh start, and the Blazers will get a cost-controlled big that can offer some rim protection; Portland gets a long-desired skill while getting something back for a player set to hit free agency. Plumlee was a good player for the Blazers, but considering the state of the franchise it’s unknown whether they’d want to commit to a new deal when a heavy re-tool is in order.
As for the financial impact on Denver? As you saw above, they plan to keep Plumlee around. The Nuggets have ample cash to spend and that’s without considering the likely departure of Danilo Gallinari. Spending a little bit more on a backup center who fits as beautifully as Plumlee is worth the plunge, especially considering the effect it will have on the rest of their roster construction efforts.
It’s impossible to guarantee that the Jokic-Plumlee era will be a success but on paper it’s a phenomenal gambit. The Nuggets are smartly navigating the final stages of their rebuild and could soon be more than just a fun League Pass watch. Denver’s looking to the future; one that might be here very, very soon.