The Mason Plumlee-Jusuf Nurkic trade reveals much about the state of Portland and Denver. Let’s start with the vitals:
Denver Nuggets acquire
-Mason Plumlee, age-26, 28.1 mpg, 11.1 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 4.0 apg, 18.7 PER, 3.0 BPM (restricted free agent after season)
-A second round pick and cash
Portland Trail Blazers acquire
-Jusuf Nurkic, age-22, 17.9 mpg. 8.0 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 1.3 apg, 14.9 PER, -2.4 BPM (restricted free agent after 2017-18)
-Memphis’ 2017 first round pick (currently 23rd overall)
On the numbers, the trade isn’t great for Portland. The Blazers’ main problem is defense and Plumlee rates out as the team’s best defender by far. The Blazers are only a game back of Denver for the eight seed and they sacrifice Plumlee’s defense and passing because they just don’t want to keep paying another solid player a ton of cash when he is a free agent this summer. In retrospect, Portland might have considered letting the redundant Allen Crabbe or Mo Harkless walk if the cost is the only center on the roster.
The trade isn’t all bad for Portland. Nurkic is younger and cheaper than Plumlee. In addition, Nurkic is a pretty good defensive presence (his negative BPM relates totally to his plodding offense—his defense is actually a positive). So, the downgrade isn’t huge and Portland also gets a later first round pick as a bonus.
For Denver, the trade can only help. It is well-documented that Nurkic doesn’t mesh well with Nikola Jokic and, perhaps, Plumlee’s nice passing will be a better fit. Even if Plumlee doesn’t totally fit, the Nuggets are the worst defense in the NBA. Plumlee is bound to help in that regard and, as an added bonus, his loss will hurt Portland, Denver’s closest competition for the playoffs. Denver is also pretty low in payroll, so they can pay Plumlee if he does fit. It’s not clear if Plumlee will blend well with Kenneth Faried, but the net result pushes the Nuggets closer to the playoff for the first time since 2012-13.